Teaching forensic entomology with common grocery items: Decomposition and insect succession studies


  • Erin Bauer University of Nebraska--Lincoln
  • Charles Murrieta
  • Larry Barksdale


Forensic entomology, taphonomy, experiential learning, forensically important insects, crime scene investigation


Forensic science and entomology programs may benefit from using deceased pigs as teaching resources due to anatomical similarities to humans. The use of such animals provides opportunities for students to learn the effects of geographical location and climate on insects; understand insect succession; practice insect collection and identification; and learn post-mortem interval procedures, taphonomic principles of decomposition, and crime scene investigation and management techniques. Forensic entomology and taphonomic studies fit well with educational interests in experiential learning. Pigs may be readily available through animal science departments or local producers, and many institutions may have property where this research can be conducted. However, due to regulatory requirements and cost, smaller entities such as community colleges, K-12 schools, criminal justice agencies, students conducting independent research or taking lab courses, and private consultants may have difficulty obtaining suitable materials and space for entomological forensic studies.

The purpose of this study was to evaluate alternative, physically small meat products that are easily obtained from a grocery store or butcher shop and could be used in lieu of a pig or other large animal. Such meats are relatively inexpensive, readily available, and would need little space when setting up an experiential, immersive learning exercise. In many cases the decomposition experiment could be carried out in a closed container such as a fish tank and in less time than with a larger animal source.





Activity or Laboratory Experiment: College Educators