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Forensic Sci Int. 2001 Aug 15;120(1-2):132-9.

The forensic entomologist in the context of the forensic pathologist's role.

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  • 1Section of Legal Medicine (DIMIMP), University of Bari, Piazza Giulio Cesare, 70100 Policlinico-Bari, Italy.


An adequate death investigation requires the combined efforts and cooperation of experts in different disciplines: crime scene technicians, death investigators, forensic pathologists, anthropologists, entomologists, other medical and non-medical professionals. These front-line experts play a crucial role in every death investigation process. The forensic pathologist normally has the legal authority to take charge of the dead body at a death scene and his primary functions are the exterior and interior examination of the cadaver by analyzing the extent of antemortem injuries and the postmortem changes and the recovery of physical evidence. He is responsible for determining how, when and why of any death which is the result of violence, suspicious or unexplained circumstances or a death which is sudden or unattended, defending and explaining the reasons for making these diagnoses in a courtroom. The forensic entomologist can provide invaluable aid in death cases where human remains are colonized by insects and in the overall investigation. His principal role is to identify the arthropods associated with such cases and to analyze entomological data for interpreting insect evidence. He is responsible for determining the period of insect activity according to all the variables affecting insect invasion of remains and their development. The major goal of medico-criminal entomology is to contribute to the determination of the time, cause, manner and place of the investigated death (especially on badly decomposed corpses or skeletonized human remains) with the support of all the elements which can be inferred from the study of insects found on the cadaver or nearby. The application of techniques devised recently in forensic entomology can allow experts in the field to collect strong entomological evidence and provide useful information not only in a death investigation including movement or storage of the remains following death, time of dismemberment, postmortem artifacts on the body but also at the scene, and even more in child neglect, sexual molestation and identification of suspects. As the role of the forensic entomologist at the death scene, at the autopsy and in the laboratory is defined and well known, this paper focuses on the difficulties that could arise if forensic pathologists and entomologists are uncertain about the procedures that they have to follow, do not realize the value of objective findings or fail to evaluate them. Although every forensic case presents a slightly different set of circumstances and has to be tackled individually, the forensic pathologist should work with the forensic entomologist from the visual observations of the cadaver on the scene, through the collection of arthropods and temperature data at the death scene and at the autopsy, up to the final report with the interpretation of entomological and other biological evidence.

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