A brief history of forensic entomology

Forensic Sci Int. 2001 Aug 15;120(1-2):2-14. doi: 10.1016/s0379-0738(01)00409-1.


Apart from an early case report from China (13th century) and later artistic contributions, the first observations on insects and other arthropods as forensic indicators were documented in Germany and France during mass exhumations in the late 1880s by Reinhard and Hofmann, whom we propose recognizing as co-founders of the discipline. After the French publication of Mégnin's popular book on the applied aspects of forensic entomology, the concept quickly spread to Canada and the US. At the time, researchers recognized that the lack of systematic observations of forensically important insects stood in the way of their use as indicators of postmortem interval. General advances in insect taxonomy, and ecology helped close this gap over the following decades. Many early case reports dealt with alleged child homicides, including the suspected use of sulphuric acid. In this context, it was shown that ants, cockroaches, and freshwater arthropods could produce postmortem artifacts suggestive of child abuse. After the World Wars, few forensic entomology cases entered the scientific literature. From the 1960s to the 1980s, Leclecq and Nuorteva were primarily responsible for maintaining the method in Central Europe, with a focus on case work. Since then, basic research in the US, Russia and Canada has opened the way to the routine use of entomology in forensic investigations. The following article gives a brief overview of historic developments in the field. A major focus is on the work done between 1850 and 1950. Since sources from that time remain difficult to track down, the article also includes a historic bibliographical overview on forensic entomology of that era.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • China
  • Entomology / history*
  • Forensic Medicine / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans