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Forensic Entomology

Calliphoridae (Blowflies) – the Key Players in Forensic Entomology

Saprophagous blowflies of the family Calliphoridae are the most commonly encountered arthropod fauna used in forensic analysis. The adults of individual blowfly species and even age- and sex-classes within any one species, may show specific spatial and temporal differences in abundance and in their responses to corpses at different stages of decomposition.  The rates of development of the eggs and larvae are also highly predictable, being strongly determined by temperature and to a lesser extent humidity.  A detailed understanding of the biology of various blowfly species and their predictable succession within a decomposing corpse, therefore, can provide important information relating to the place and, particularly time of death. For such entomologically-based time estimates to be valid and acceptable in law, highly accurate identification of the species present is essential. 

However, identification of many insect species by morphological methods is often difficult, particularly for poorly preserved specimens and larvae.  In such cases, molecular typing of forensic insect specimen DNA offers a quick and reliable alternative; since 1994 the potential advantages of such an approach have been demonstrated for a number of blowfly species using DNA sequences of both mitochondrial and nuclear genes. The research in Dr Stevens' laboratory continues to contribute to the discipline of molecular forensic entomology - see publications below.

Publications in Forensic Entomology

Jeffrey D. Wells and Jamie R. Stevens (2009) Molecular Methods for Forensic Entomology. In: Forensic Entomology: The Utility of Arthropods in Legal Investigations (2nd Edition), Eds Byrd, J.H. & Castner, J.L. Chapter 13, pages 439-455.

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  • Stevens, J. & Wall, R. (1995)  The use of random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) analysis for studies of genetic variation in populations of the blowfly Lucilia sericata in southern England.  Bulletin of Entomological Research 85: 549-555. [View PDF
  • Stevens, J. & Wall, R. (1996)  Species, sub-species and hybrid populations of the blowflies Lucilia cuprina and Lucilia sericata (Diptera: Calliphoridae).  Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: B  263: 1335-1341. [View PDF]
  • Stevens, J. & Wall, R. (1997)  Genetic variation in populations of the blowflies Lucilia cuprina and Lucilia sericata: random amplified polymorphic DNA analysis and mitochondrial DNA sequences.  Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 25: 81-97.
    [View PDF
  • Stevens J. & Wall, R. (2001)  Genetic relationships between blowflies (Calliphoridae) of forensic importance  Forensic Science International 120 (1-2): 116–123.
    [View PDF]
  • Stevens, J., Wall, R. & Wells, J. (2002) Paraphyly in Hawaiian hybrid blowfly populations and the evolutionary history of anthropophilic species.  Insect Molecular Biology 11: 141-148. [View PDF]
  • Wells, J.D., R. Wall & J.R. Stevens (2007) Phylogenetic analysis of forensically important Lucilia flies based on cytochrome oxidase I sequence: a cautionary tale for forensic species determination.  International Journal of Legal Medicine, 121: 229–233. [View PDF]
  • Stevens, J.R., West, H. & Wall, R. (2008) Mitochondrial genomes of the sheep blowfly, Lucilia sericata, and the secondary blowfly, Chrysomya megacephala.  Medical and Veterinary Entomology, 22: 89-91. [View PDF]

  • Wells, J.D. & J.R. Stevens (2008) Application of DNA-Based Methods in Forensic Entomology. Annual Review of Entomology, 53: 103-120. [Download PDF]
  • McDonagh, L., Thornton, C.R., Wallman J.F. & Stevens, J.R. (2009) Development of an antigen-based rapid diagnostic test for the identification of blowfly (Calliphoridae) species of forensic significance.  Forensic Science International: Genetics, 3: 162-165. [View PDF]

  • McDonagh, L.M. & Stevens, J.R. (2011) The molecular systematics of blowflies and screwworm flies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) using 28S rRNA, COX1 and EF-1α: insights into the evolution of dipteran parasitism. Parasitology, 138: 1760–1777. 
    [View PDF]

Together with colleagues in the UK, Italy, USA and Australia, we have also produced a number of papers on the evolution, systematics and taxonomy of calliphorid and oestrid flies which may also be of interest to researchers in forensic entomology. See the Ectoparasites section of this website for further details.

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