Forensics Guidebook released from Entomology and Forensics Departments

Students and instructors stand together for a selfie
TUESDAY, JANUARY 25, 2022

By Erin Bauer & Kathy Schindler

A one-of-a-kind forensics guidebook for Nebraskans has just been published by two departments at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Entomology and the Forensic Science departments are pleased to offer "Death Scene Insect Succession in Nebraska: A Guidebook."  This manual is designed for both students studying forensics and law enforcement personnel investigating crimes.

The guidebook provides information about insect succession and patterns in Nebraska and how to collect and preserve forensically-important insects as evidence for criminal investigations. At death scenes, insects visit a body in a fairly predictable pattern known as succession. Knowing what insects are associated with each stage of decomposition helps law enforcement determine post mortem intervals to solve crimes. Forensic insect evidence is important when law enforcement employees investigate civil, criminal, administrative, and national security crimes. 

The guidebook is based on pig studies conducted in 2018 and 2019 on the Forensic Science research and teaching property near UNL's East Campus. These studies placed unhealthy deceased piglets in various crime scene scenarios to determine different decomposition rates and types of forensic insect visitation. During the pig studies, the types of death included hanging, burying, wrapping in plastic, placing in a car trunk, laying in a damp cistern, and blunt force trauma.  Information in the guidebook includes the types of insects found at crime scenes, decomposition stages, the results of the pig research, and step-by-step instructions for collecting and preserving forensically-important insects. 

Graduate Lecturer Erin Bauer in Entomology and Assistant Professor of Practice Larry Barksdale from the Forensic Science Department coordinated the guidebook's creation. Entomology graduate student Justine LaViolette and Forensic Science student Emma Sidel contributed to the 2019 pig study by photographing or filming the mock crime scenes to record decomposition and insect activity. They also took notes and assisted with the guidebook's content. Other forensic experts, graduate students, and undergraduate students, assisted with reviewing the text, laying out the content, and illustrating the manual. The manual was developed using the University of Nebraska's Pressbooks writing software. 

In addition to providing illustrations of forensically-important insects, LaViolette created a short film called “The Ultimate Recyclers” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4pTI-Cgq8Q) based on footage she took at the mock crime scenes. Funding for this film was provided from a grant that Bauer and LaViolette received from the UNL Center for Transformative Teaching

Forensic Entomology is the scientific study of insects and their use in legal investigations. Entomology is the study of insects encompassing the biological, agricultural, and environmental sciences related to insects and their interaction with humans, the environment, and other organisms. 

The guidebook is available in pdf format, a print format, and at the UNL Digital Commons. For more information, contact Erin Bauer, ebauer2@unl.edu or Larry Barksdale, larry.barksdale@unl.edu. The findings from the pig study were presented at the Science Cafe on Aug. 27, 2019.