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Necrophagous Caterpillars Provide Human mtDNA Evidence

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Decomposition of large mammalian carcasses is greatly accelerated through the action of insects. Specialized feeders capable of digesting keratin and collagen found in skin, hair, and tendons and ligaments are attracted to corpses in late stages of dry decomposition and include Tinea pellionella, the casemaking clothes moth, and Tineola bisselliella, the webbing clothes moth (Lepidoptera; Tineidae). Until now, details of the caterpillar behavior as necrophagous insects were vague. Here, we detail the behavior of each species and document the incorporation of human hair into the portable larval shelters constructed by the caterpillars of T. pellionella. Hair of the decedent used as building material for caterpillar shelters provided enough starting template to amplify and sequence the HVI and HVII sections of the control region (mtDNA) of the decedent.

Keywords: case report; control region; forensic entomology; forensic science; human hair; lepidoptera; necrophagous caterpillars; tineidae

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX. 2: Assistant Professor, College of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX.

Publication date: July 1, 2010

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