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First Responder: The Scorpion Fly

March 18th, 2015

First Responder: The Scorpion Fly      

Over the years, Forensic Entomologist believed that blowflies were the first on the scene of a homicide. In fact, forensic investigators examine DNA in their guts and larvae they leave at the scene for clues to solve murders. But he idea that blowflie are there first may not be entirely true. At Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas forensic field tests using a human corpse rather than animals, such as pigs that are normally used, discovered a different first responder than was expected.

According to a new study recently released, what happened could alter what forensic investigators look for in human remains while trying understand how the victim died. The first animal on the scene wasn’t a blowfly. It was the scorpion fly, a predator of bugs thought to be harmless to humans. Not only did scorpion flies feed on the cadaver, they performed mating dances and copulated.

Scorpion flies that buzz gardens and the edge of woodlands were known to gravitate only to animal carrion, said the researcher, Natalie K. Lindgren, a student at Sam Houston who was the study’s lead author. “The interesting thing about scorpion flies on human cadavers is they showed up first and remained there for a while.” Lindgren said this important because “we already know who we expect to see first,” but the undocumented presence of scorpion flies on a human remains left on soft dirt in a sub-tropical bog in Huntsville is “expanding our understanding of decomposition ecology.”

These off looking insects are called Scorpion flies because the males of one family (Panorpidae) have enlarged abdomen and genitalia which resemble a scorpion’s tail and stinger. Scorpion flies have two pairs of wings and strong hind legs. Despite their double set of wings, scorpion flies fly slowly and in erratic patterns. Scorpion flies are not known to harm humans. They seldom breed in large groups and tend to live in single, mated pairs.

Working with humans can get emotional, Lindgren admitted, but “once you realize that person or family wanted the body used for research, you feel kind of good about what you’re doing, trying to discover things and making science stronger.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/01/22/the-scorpion-flys-newfound-attraction-to-human-remains-could-help-solve-murders/

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