London: In a big aid to detectives faced with investigating gruesome crimes, a leading Italian forensic scientist claims to have built up data that may help determine whether marks on a dead body were due to violence or work of insects which moved in after death.
Dr Stefano Vanin at University of Huddersfield says that tiny creatures very often can cause lesions to a corpse which closely resemble injuries left by a human assailant. For example, ants which clamber over a dead body`s face can deposit marks which mimic the effects of a punch.
It is vital that detectives are quickly able to separate post-mortem insect damage from wounds that were caused before death by a killer, he says.
Dr Vanin is building up a body of knowledge about the various ways in which insects can distort crime scenes and he has reported on some of his latest findings in the `Forensic Science International` journal.
This time he investigates the damage caused to dead bodies that are found underwater, where they are preyed on by aquatic creatures.
It was the retrieval of the body of a 28-year-old man in the River Brenta, at Padova in Italy, that provided Dr Vanin with the opportunity to add another piece to his jigsaw of knowledge.
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 Dr Vanin and his colleagues to analyse and record the post-mortal damage caused by the amphipods. The marks were similar to those deposited by ants on dry land, a release said.
As a result, when detectives and forensic scientists are examining future corpses recovered from fresh water, they will have data which will help explain unusual markings on the body.