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Collembola of the Grave: A Cold Case History Involving Arthropods 28 Years After Death

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 52 Issue: 6 Dated: November 2007 Pages: 1359-1371
Richard W. Merritt Ph.D.; Richard Snider Ph.D.; Joyce L. de Jong D.O.; M. Eric Benbow Ph.D.; Ryan K. Kimbirauskas M.S.; Rebecca E. Kolar M.S.
Date Published
November 2007
13 pages
This report on the arthropod fauna associated with the cadaver of a woman exhumed 28 years after her death in a cold case investigation of her death from a gunshot provided important information for forensic entomologists, biologists, and pathologists regarding arthropods linked with decomposed bodies far beyond the normal postmortem interval, as well as the environmental factors that may have led to their occurrence.
The corpse, which was embalmed and then buried at a depth of 1.8 meters in an unsealed casket placed inside an unsealed cement vault, was found to be infested with thousands of live specimens of a single species of the order Collembola or spring tails, Sinella (Coecobrya) tenebricosa (Entomobryidae). The species of Collembola found surviving and reproducing on this corpse is the oldest reported grave site occurrence for any collembolan species, according to a survey of the literature dating back to 1898. This species is considered a "tramp" species that is cosmopolitan in the United States and Canada. Due to the ideal environmental conditions at the burial site, the population of this species grew inside the casket for a number of years. The potential role of Collembola in forensic entomology investigations requires further research. Along with the Collembola were large numbers of Acarina (mites) of the Family Glycyphagidae and fly puparia, Conicera tibialis Schmitz (Order: Diptera, Family: Phoridae), also known as coffin flies. These invertebrates have been mentioned sometimes by forensic investigators as existing on corpses in graves; however, aspects of their life history have been rarely described. 1 table, 3 figures, and 17 references