Death eaters respond to the dark mark of decomposition day and night: observations of initial insect activity on piglet carcasses

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Some insect taxa can be of critical importance for criminal investigations because they can be used to assist with a time since death determination. Blow flies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) often are the initial colonizers of a carcass, usually arriving within minutes to hours after carcass exposure during the day. Other insects, such as coleopterans and hymenopterans, can arrive to a carcass during early colonization and affect blow fly development. However, the extent of these interactions remains unclear. This study analyzed the initial 6 h after a piglet carcass was placed out in two locations (rural and urban) in diurnal and nocturnal conditions with continuous video recording and hourly observations. Four piglets were placed out every 2 weeks over the summer of 2014. Initial blow fly arrivals to the carcasses were only recorded during diurnal conditions, and a checklist of orders associated with each environment (time and location) was created. During diurnal conditions, initial blow fly arrival times in rural environments were significantly faster than those in urban, arriving as quickly as 23 s after exposure. These observations also included a novel interaction with Vespidae, which to the best of our knowledge has not been seen in the literature before. This experiment provides baseline data on early insect colonization in two environments in New Jersey, and lends insight into insect interactions that could affect initial colonization.

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We thank Jessamine Orlino and Erentsen Enkeev for their assistance in conducting this experiment. We would also like to thank Changlu Wang for confirming the Formicidae identifications, and Jeffery Tomberlin, David Jennings, and two anonymous reviewers for providing comments to improve this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Lauren M. Weidner.

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Electronic supplementary material

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Potential adult Calliphoridae crawling onto piglet carcass (MP4 20772 kb)

Vespula sp. gathering blow fly eggs into a ball-like structure (MP4 24848 kb)

Video 1

Potential adult Calliphoridae crawling onto piglet carcass (MP4 20772 kb)

Video 2

Vespula sp. gathering blow fly eggs into a ball-like structure (MP4 24848 kb)

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Weidner, L.M., Monzon, M.A. & Hamilton, G.C. Death eaters respond to the dark mark of decomposition day and night: observations of initial insect activity on piglet carcasses. Int J Legal Med 130, 1633–1637 (2016).

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  • Calliphoridae
  • Hymenoptera
  • Blow flies
  • Colonization
  • Vespidae