Insects and associated arthropods analyzed during medicolegal death investigations in Harris County, Texas, USA: January 2013- April 2016
by Michelle R. SanfordThe application of insect and arthropod information to medicolegal death investigations is one of the more exacting applications of entomology. Historically limited to homicide investigations, the integration of full time forensic entomology services to the medical examiner’s office in Harris County has opened up the opportunity to apply entomology to a wide variety of manner of death classifications and types of scenes to make observations on a number of different geographical and species-level trends in Harris County, Texas, USA. In this study, a retrospective analysis was made of 203 forensic entomology cases analyzed during the course of medicolegal death investigations performed by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences in Houston, TX, USA from January 2013 through April 2016. These cases included all manner of death classifications, stages of decomposition and a variety of different scene types that were classified into decedents transported from the hospital (typically associated with myiasis or sting allergy; 3.0%), outdoor scenes (32.0%) or indoor scenes (65.0%). Ambient scene air temperature at the time scene investigation was the only significantly different factor observed between indoor and outdoor scenes with average indoor scene temperature being slightly cooler (25.2°C) than that observed outdoors (28.0°C). Relative humidity was not found to be significantly different between scene types. Most of the indoor scenes were classified as natural (43.3%) whereas most of the outdoor scenes were classified as homicides (12.3%). All other manner of death classifications came from both indoor and outdoor scenes. Several species were found to be significantly associated with indoor scenes as indicated by a binomial test, including Blaesoxipha plinthopyga (Wiedemann) (Diptera: Sarcophagidae), all Sarcophagidae (including B. plinthopyga), Megaselia scalaris Loew (Diptera: Phoridae), Synthesiomyia nudiseta Wulp (Diptera: Muscidae) and Lucilia cuprina (Wiedemann) (Diptera: Calliphoridae). The only species that was a significant indicator of an outdoor scene was Lucilia eximia (Wiedemann) (Diptera: Calliphoridae). All other insect species that were collected in five or more cases were collected from both indoor and outdoor scenes. A species list with month of collection and basic scene characteristics with the length of the estimated time of colonization is also presented. The data presented here provide valuable casework related species data for Harris County, TX and nearby areas on the Gulf Coast that can be used to compare to other climate regions with other species assemblages and to assist in identifying new species introductions to the area. This study also highlights the importance of potential sources of uncertainty in preparation and interpretation of forensic entomology reports from different scene types.
Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article
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