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Caddisflies Assist with Homicide Case: Determining a Postmortem Submersion Interval Using Aquatic Insects

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Although few indicators of time since death for corpses found in aquatic ecosystems are comparable in precision to the insect indicators used in terrestrial cases, there are observations that can be useful in suggesting or ruling out an approximate PMSI (postmortem submersion interval). For example, the time intervals required for certain growth phases of aquatic insects, such as caddisflies, that may attach themselves to the submerged remains can be used to estimate a minimum PMSI. Approximately 8 of the 13 orders of insects containing species with aquatic or semi-aquatic stages are likely to be associated with carrion or corpses in aquatic habitats. We present a case study in which portions of a body from an adult male were discovered in a south central Michigan stream. The body was dismembered and portions were recovered from two bags floating and submerged in the stream. Insect specimens collected from mesh and plastic bags consisted of one fly larva belonging to the family Muscidae, and caddisfly larvae belonging to two families: the Limnephilidae. (case-makers) and the Hydropsychidae, (net spinners). We used unique case-building behaviors of the limnephilid caddisflies found on the remains to elucidate a PMSI range consistent with the disappearance of the victim. It is important for forensic investigators to understand that although some precision is lost in estimating a PMSI with aquatic insects, these organisms should not be ignored in gathering evidence from aquatic crime scenes, and in fact, they can provide valuable details in estimating a PMSI.
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Keywords: caddisflies; forensic science; life history; postmortem submersion interval

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Millersville University, Millersville, PA 17551. 2: Department of Entomology, 243 Natural Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1115.

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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