Evaluating the utility of hexapod species for calculating a confidence interval about a succession based postmortem interval estimate

Forensic Sci Int. 2014 Aug;241:91-5. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2014.05.007. Epub 2014 May 20.


Carrion insect succession patterns have long been used to estimate the postmortem interval (PMI) during a death investigation. However, no published carrion succession study included sufficient replication to calculate a confidence interval about a PMI estimate based on occurrence data. We exposed 53 pig carcasses (16±2.5 kg), near the likely minimum needed for such statistical analysis, at a site in north-central Indiana, USA, over three consecutive summer seasons. Insects and Collembola were sampled daily from each carcass for a total of 14 days, by this time each was skeletonized. The criteria for judging a life stage of a given species to be potentially useful for succession-based PMI estimation were (1) nonreoccurrence (observed during a single period of presence on a corpse), and (2) found in a sufficiently large proportion of carcasses to support a PMI confidence interval. For this data set that proportion threshold is 45/53. Of the 266 species collected and identified, none was nonreoccuring in that each showed at least a gap of one day on a single carcass. If the definition of nonreoccurrence is relaxed to include such a single one-day gap the larval forms of Necrophilaamericana, Fanniascalaris, Cochliomyia macellaria, Phormiaregina, and Luciliaillustris satisfied these two criteria. Adults of Creophilus maxillosus, Necrobiaruficollis, and Necrodessurinamensis were common and showed only a few, single-day gaps in occurrence. C.maxillosus, P.regina, and L.illustris displayed exceptional forensic utility in that they were observed on every carcass. Although these observations were made at a single site during one season of the year, the species we found to be useful have large geographic ranges. We suggest that future carrion insect succession research focus only on a limited set of species with high potential forensic utility so as to reduce sample effort per carcass and thereby enable increased experimental replication.

Keywords: Confidence interval; Forensic entomology; Occurrence; Postmortem interval; Statistics; Succession.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Coleoptera*
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Diptera*
  • Entomology
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Forensic Pathology
  • Humans
  • Larva
  • Postmortem Changes*
  • Swine