Commensalism in Necrophagous Arthropods May Lead to the Discovery of Clandestine Burials


  • Aidan Holman Texas A&M University
  • Adrienne Brundage Texas A&M University
  • Kevin Conway
  • Ryan Mohammed


Today, uncovering illicitly buried persons in homicide cases usually involves ground-penetrating radar and other electronic resistivity methods, and for emergency situations that is unlikely to change. However, taking advantage of what is visible above ground could reveal probative information regarding reduced fields of search of suspected areas. Insects are the most species-rich group of animals on the planet and many species of insect have the ability to dwell above and below ground. Ants, for example, can build nests that are sizeable enough to be noticed above ground but may also extend deep beneath the surface. In this study, insects were surveyed from sites that were designed to mimic clandestine burials related to homicide. Chicken bait was buried over a foot deep and left to decay for several days in a warm, forested area, near areas of noticeable ant activity. Daily observations and identification of insects on the ground surface directly over the burial site were conducted. Ants were the most prevalent at each site, however, they were also the most difficult to discern from far distances. Flies were easily discernable from up to distances of 27 ft, on average, but were only available after colonization of the carrion done by ants. Given these results, it is likely that necrophagous arthropods can be used to aid in the discovery of clandestine burials.

Author Biography

Aidan Holman, Texas A&M University

Full-time sophomore at Texas A&M University

Forensics and Investigative Sciences - Science Emphasis