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The testimony of bugs



Work of forensic entomologist is solving crimes

Most of us pay no attention to the insects around us.

The stinging and biting variety can annoy us and the multi-limbed ones can give us the creeps, but for the most part they have little impact on our lives.

But ignore them at your peril, especially if you have broken the law.

These days insects are testifying in all sorts of crime cases thanks to the groundbreaking work of forensic entomologists, such as B.C.'s own Dr. Gail Anderson.

A recognized leader in the field Anderson, of the Simon Fraser department of criminology, has used her decade of research to help the authorities in over 120 cases.

The science is not new. In AD 1235 Chinese investigator Sung Tz'u solved a slashing murder by ordering village residents to bring forth their sickles. A swarm of blowflies descended on one suggesting the presence of blood and after being confronted the sickle's owner confessed.

But new technology has made the science a must for many high profile cases of violent crime.

In a recent American case crime scene experts extracted human DNA from blood-engorged pubic crab louse found on a woman who had been raped and left for dead.

Detectives matched the sample with DNA from a suspect who was infested with lice.

This is ground-breaking science for the future as it could be used in cases where a person is presumed murdered but their body is missing.

If insects were attracted to the dead body and fed and laid their eggs then the body was moved it is possible DNA from the victim could be retrieved from the guts of maggots left at the scene of the crime.

In another infamous case the body of a murdered woman was found with the mangled remains of a grasshopper in her clothing.

During a police search of the suspect's pant leg cuff the left hind leg of a grasshopper was discovered. The pest parts matched perfectly.

But in most cases forensic entomologists like Anderson use bugs to help determine the time of death.

Often called to testify in court cases, she can help make the job of the jury a bit easier by using science as a guide.

"I can't tell the jury who is telling the truth," said Anderson who was nominated by Time magazine in 1999 as one of the top innovators in the field of crime and punishment. "But I can tell the jury who is lying because I will give a date and that date is going to only fit one scenario, so it will eliminate somebody.

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