Police line do not cross tape

When people die, insects called blow flies are often the first on the scene. They lay eggs that develop into maggots, which offer evidence to homicide investigators.

Picard: “If you can determine how old a maggot is that has been developing on a corpse, then you can work backwards and figure out, well, this is the minimum time that this person has been dead.”

That’s Christine Picard of Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. She says that in the past, only one blow fly species was common in Indiana.

But recently, researchers found that a species of blow fly historically found farther south has moved into the state …

Picard: “… most likely in accordance with changes in climate, specifically temperature.”

The two species are almost indistinguishable. So …

Picard: “… where you don’t expect to see this fly, you may make an inaccurate identification.”

That’s a problem because the flies develop at different rates. So Picard says misidentification could lead investigators to get the time of death wrong.

That can have consequences for people accused of crimes, and those hoping to solve them.

So she says it’s important that forensics experts learn how climate change could affect their work.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Copyright 2015 Tony Webster / Flickr.

Diana Madson contributed regularly to Yale Climate Connections from 2014 to 2021. She enjoys exploring U.S.-based stories about unexpected and innovative solutions to climate change. In addition to her...