SO YOU WANNA BE A FORENSIC ENTOMOLOGIST
There’s been a murder. The body is lying there in the field, covered with dirt and bugs. It’s been there a day—or maybe a week. That’s where you come in. You are a forensic entomologist.
What is a forensic entomologist? Let’s break that term down. Forensics is the act of applying scientific principles and methods to the purpose of solving crimes. An entomologist is a scientist who studies bugs and insects. So, your job is to help solve crimes by studying the bugs and insects found at the crime scene. To take an example from television, the “Bones” character Dr. Jack Hodgins, played by TJ Thyne, often excitedly uses insects in his work. In this role, he is a forensic entomologist.
TYPES OF FORENSIC ENTOMOLOGY
There are generally three types of forensic entomology. The medicolegal group is concerned with studying bugs found on remains for the purposes of crime solving. This is what Dr Hodgins does.
Urban forensic entomology is concerned with the insects that interact with man and man’s environment. This group has both criminal and civil concerns because insects can cause damage which may be confused with prior wounds. The investigator may also become involved in civil cases involving monetary damages.
The final division is stored product. Here, the investigator may be called as an expert witness in cases involved with food contamination or poisonings.
Song Ci is generally considered to be the first forensic entomologist. Of course, back in 1247 AD, when he did his work, that term didn’t exist, but he was the first to literally write the book on the subject. His book, Washing Away Of Wrongs, is a series of case studies in which he lays out the techniques he used in solving several crimes. In some form, these techniques are still used today.
A few hundred years later, Jean Pierre Mégnin wrote his own books on the subject. He discovered how to determine time of death by figuring out how many generations of mites are found on the body, approximately one generation every 15 days. He also determined that exposed corpses go through 8 waves of insects, and buried corpses are exposed to only two waves.
Most forensic entomologists start with a Master’s or Doctorates in entomology, biology, zoology, or ecology. Once this is done, they can then become certified by the American Board of Forensic Entomology (ABFE) if they have also passed the exam and:
A. Completed a minimum of three years of professional experience in forensic entomology casework;
B. Possess a minimum of one peer reviewed publication on a subject germane to the field of forensic entomology (senior authorship is not required);
C. Given at least one professional presentation to convey research or general education on the subject of forensic entomology
This will get you Member status in the ABFE. There is also something called Diplomate status. For Diplomate status, you must first have Member status and:
A. Earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in entomology, biology, zoology, ecology;
B. Completed a minimum of five years of professional experience in forensic entomology casework (will be asked to present write-ups for these cases as evidence);
C. Have a minimum of three peer-reviewed publications on a subject germane to the field of forensic entomology,
D. Given a minimum of five professional presentations on the subject of forensic entomology at independently-hosted meetings, workshops, or symposia.
GETTING A JOB
Most law enforcement operations don’t have staff forensic entomologists. Instead careers are found in academic institutions, with which law enforcement partners as needed. In addition to crime solving, many forensic scientists, in all fields, spend part of their careers teaching and doing research.
The typical salary range for a forensic entomologist $30,000 to $70,000 per year, depending on how many years of experience you have. It also depends on if it is an academic or private employer.
So, if you like bugs and insects, and are into crime solving, check into being a forensic entomologist.