The study of insects is known as entomology, while the scientific investigation of crimes is known as forensics. So, The study of insects in criminal investigations is known as forensic entomology. For instance, the presence of specific insect species might indicate a lot about the time, place, and manner of a person’s death.
In addition, forensic entomology can help with drug and poison detection, crime scene location, trauma presence and timing, and relationships between suspects, victims, and particular crime scenes. In forensics, insects perform a significant but frequently ignored function. Without bow flies, maggots, and flesh-eating beetles, murders would not be solved, just as food crops cannot be pollinated by honey bees.
Experts in both science and criminal justice, and forensic entomologists can pinpoint the moment of death and the cause of it by applying their understanding of how insects contribute to the process of body decay.
Entomologists are frequently compared to forensic biologists since they represent a distinct subfield of forensic science. Forensic entomologist concentrates their investigation on the presence or absence of insects to make inferences about the cause or time of death, whereas forensic biologist examines all types of physical evidence at a crime scene, including bodily fluids, bones, hair, plants, insects, and animals.
Forensic entomologists have used bug evidence to convict criminals and clear the innocent for generations. Notably, a famous case involving a French couple who discovered a child’s bones while remodeling their home in the 1800s tested and proved the theory of insect succession (the order in which insects engage in decomposition). When Dr. Bergeret d’Arbois conducted an autopsy on the corpses and used his knowledge of insect life cycles to exonerate the couple and accuse the prior tenants of murder, the pair were not subjected to criminal prosecution.
The same theories are still employed today in forensic entomology to crack cases like the one Dr. Eric Benbow, a professor of entomology and a forensic entomologist at Michigan State University, looked into. Dr. Benbow ruled out the notion that a body had been immersed in a lake for 21 days as was initially thought in 2019 using his understanding of aquatic insect succession.
Like other forensic science occupations, getting a degree, getting a job, and getting certified are all required steps. Become a forensic entomologist to position yourself for a successful career in this intriguing area of forensic science and a diverse career in criminal justice and science.
Types of Entomologists
Urban, medico-legal, and stored product entomology are the three subfields of entomology. Urban forensic entomology examines how insects impact people and their immediate surroundings. According to the Crime Museum, they examine insect bites on a victim’s body and provide details regarding the time and location of the death.
Insects that consume human remains are studied by medico-legal entomologists. To determine the earliest possible period the insects may have existed, they utilize a factor termed “minimum time since colonization.” The type of injuries that were sustained before death, whether the body was moved and the time of death can all be determined using this information. Entomologists that specialize in stored goods look into cases of food contamination. They check and confirm that food goods are safe.
Skills and personality traits of successful forensic entomologists
To begin with, it should be obvious that forensic entomologists should feel at ease working with insects. A forensic entomologist can determine when and how someone died by looking at mites, spiders, ticks, and other non-insect anthropoids in the vicinity of human remains. Forensic entomologists, for instance, are aware that the presence of maggot larvae implies a recent death because they develop nearly quickly after a person passes away.
Second, since they will probably work at upsetting crime scenes, forensic entomologists need to have strong coping mechanisms. Insects at a crime scene with human remains can offer crucial details besides the gory scenes. To help ascertain the moment and manner of death, forensic entomologists use their understanding of species identification and growth rates. Forensic entomologists can tell what stage of decomposition a body is in by looking for a specific chemical that a certain kind of insect can detect at different times in the decomposition process.
Last but not least, forensic entomologists need to be able to communicate effectively and observe objectively. To find these vital bits of information, several organizations, including police detectives, coroners, federal authorities, and medical examiners, collaborate with forensic entomologists. They can assist in locating instances of anaphylactic shock, vehicular accidents, homicide, and other sorts of sudden death.
A very specific skill set is needed to study insects and their impact on cadavers. The following are some crucial characteristics and abilities of forensic entomologists:
- Interest in insects: Entomologists who work in forensics must not be afraid of insects. The decomposition of human remains is observed in various phases during fieldwork at outdoor crime sites. George Keeney, an entomologist, said that one shouldn’t be scared to get their hands filthy.
- A degree in biology or other natural sciences: A bachelor’s degree in biology or a closely related field may be sufficient for a job, while many entomologists have spent years studying the subject at the undergraduate, graduate, and even doctoral levels.
- Interpersonal and communication skills: Forensic entomologists, whether they are academics, consultants, or expert witnesses, will need good writing and spoken communication skills that can be used as court testimony, albeit these abilities may vary depending on the role.
- Knowledge of the law: Because they frequently interact with law enforcement personnel, forensic entomologists should be well-versed in criminal law.
- Public speaking skills: In criminal prosecutions, forensic entomologists may be called expert witnesses. They should anticipate speaking to huge crowds of people clearly and straightforwardly.
ROLE REQUIREMENTS FOR FORENSIC ENTOMOLOGISTS
Forensic entomologists can specialize in a variety of subjects. For instance, product entomology is the study of tainted food; urban entomology is the study of how insects affect people and the surrounding environment; and medico-legal entomologists, often known as forensic entomologists, specialize in the study of insects that feed on human remains.
Some forensic entomology duties include:
- Obtaining advice from police investigation teams and other research personnel
- Investigating dead bodies at a scene of a crime
- Taking pictures of homicide victims
- Crime scene bug DNA collection and analysis
- Examining the size, quantity, and kind of insects present to offer a professional opinion in a criminal case
- Calculating the victim’s “time since colonization,” or “time since death,”
- Obtaining chemicals from insects to support toxicological research
- Identifying the presence of drugs or other injuries in a dead victim of sexual assault to see if they occurred before or after the crime, using the attraction of insects to bodily fluids
CAREER OUTLOOK FOR FORENSIC ENTOMOLOGISTS
Forensic entomologists have a promising future in their fields. Despite the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lack of data on forensic entomologists, a profession that is closely similar to theirs, forensic science technicians, is expanding at a rate of 14%, which is more than three times faster than the average national rate for all occupations (BLS 2020). The BLS estimates that in addition to the 17,200 forensic science technicians who are presently working, 2,400 new employees will be required between 2019 and 2029.
Although there were few opportunities in forensic entomology as of 2020, those who wanted to use science and insects to solve crimes were advised to network and keep a look out for openings. Joining a professional organization like the Entomological Society of America or Entomology may provide members with beneficial networking possibilities or early access to positions for forensic entomologists.
STEPS TO BECOMING A FORENSIC ENTOMOLOGIST
A bachelor’s degree in entomology, biology, zoology, forensics, or another natural science is the first step (four years)
High school graduation and enrollment in a bachelor’s program in forensics, entomology, or comparable natural sciences are prerequisites for this vocation. Although majoring in entomology is not required for aspiring entomologists, it is recommended.
A bachelor of science in entomology is offered by the University of Texas A&M’s Department of Entomology. Students can combine this degree program with other four-year forensic science programs that have been approved by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission, even though it emphasizes the connection between insects and agriculture (FEPAC).
Texas A&M also has several different entomology programs that lead to master’s, doctorate, minor, and certificate degrees.
Biology, criminalistics, ecological impact, evolution, forensic science, genetics, human anatomy and physiology, insect anatomy, life cycles, microbiology, parasitology, physiology, population dynamics, reproduction, taxonomy, and toxicology are just a few of the courses that entomology students take while earning their degrees. Students should also seize every chance to gain practical experience through internships or part-time jobs.
Acquire some industry experience (one to three years). Aspiring forensic entomologists can find some positions, internships, and other practical opportunities with at least a bachelor’s degree. Working as an assistant for someone who has made a name for themselves as a top forensic entomologist is one popular strategy to accomplish this.
Many organizations provide internship opportunities for aspiring forensic entomologists. On the website of the Entomological Society of America, graduates can find job openings. An applicant must have some relevant experience on their resume to be considered for the exam and become certified as a forensic entomology technician by the American Board of Forensic Entomology (ABFE).
Apply to become certified as a technician with the American Board of Forensic Entomology (less than one year). The forensic entomology technician credential is the entry-level certification offered by the American Board of Forensic Entomology (ABFE).
A thorough resume including all entomology courses and experience, university transcripts, and a $50 application fee must be sent to the ABFE to be considered for the exam. Entomological specimens may be collected and processed by certified technicians before being sent to ABFE diplomates or members for additional examination. Technicians must recertify every five years, and annual dues are $50.
Complete a master’s or doctoral program (two to four years). For those who want to be leaders in academia and research, a graduate degree is necessary.
The University of Nebraska provides an online MS in entomology program. Along with options including aquatic insects, medical entomology, forensic entomology, insect behavior, and insect toxicology, students take fundamental courses in insect ecology, insect physiology, identification, and natural history. A research project and an individual study project are also finished by the students.
Students may continue to work toward a Ph.D. in forensic entomology if they intend to teach or just advance in their current profession.
Doctoral candidates should plan on investing more time in their studies and attendance at seminars. Aspiring forensic entomologists may also need to complete written or oral tests and their dissertations, in which they might concentrate their research on a particular branch of forensic entomology.
Obtain diplomate or member status from the American Board of Forensic Entomology as the final step (less than one year)
At this point, forensic entomologists can apply for a member or diplomate status through the American Board of Forensic Entomology, the last certification in this area (ABFE).
Candidates need to succeed on written and practical exams, as well as a peer evaluation procedure. The board provides the exams to organization members at least once every year. As the last point, forensic entomologists in the US might want to think about joining organizations that provide networking, continuing education, conferences, and other resources, such as the North American Forensic Entomology Association.
Average Salary & Percentiles of Forensic Entomologists
The BLS reports that forensic science technicians, a job linked to forensic chemists, make an average yearly pay of $59,150. (BLS 2020). According to self-reported income information from PayScale.com (2020), forensic chemists make an average annual pay of $52,341.
For salaries of forensic science technicians in the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentiles, the BLS provides the following annual salary data:
- The median (10th percentile) income is $35,620.
- $97,350 is the 90th percentile.