Scientist implicates insects in 'murder mysteries

May 14, 2012, 09:26 IST | IANS

Marks on a dead body could indicate violence and possible murder - but instead of a human killer, they might have been made by legions of insects.

Italian-born Stefano Vanin, forensic scientist at the University of Huddersfield, is unmasking minute creatures which contaminate crime scenes and throw sleuths off the scent and into drawing erroneous conclusions. For example, ants which clamber over a corpse's face can deposit marks which mimic the effects of a punch. Other tiny creatures can cause lesions to a dead body which closely resemble injuries left by a human assailant, says Vanin, the journal Forensic Science International reports.

It was the retrieval of the body of a 28-year-old man in the River Brenta, at Padova in Italy, that provided Vanin with the opportunity to add another piece to his jigsaw of knowledge, according to a Huddersfield statement. The man had drowned - witnesses had seen him struggling in the water - and there were no signs of injury on the body. But during the autopsy, a series of small abrasions in the upper eyelids were discovered.

These were caused by large numbers of amphipods -- tiny, eyeless crustaceans which had been feeding on the body and were discovered when the corpse was pulled out of the water. This enabled Vanin and his colleagues to analyse and record the post-mortal damage caused by the amphipods. The marks were very similar to those deposited by ants on dry land. As a result, when detectives and forensic scientists are examining future corpses recovered from fresh water, they can fall back on Vanin's data to explain unusual markings on the body. 

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