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Dubai: Decomposed body found in building; insects help police find time of death

Studying insect populations and larval stages enables the police to estimate the postmortem index

By A Staff Reporter

Published: Sun 23 Jan 2022, 1:39 PM

Last updated: Sun 23 Jan 2022, 10:59 PM

Insects have helped the Dubai Police determine the time of death of an unidentified, decomposed body found in an abandoned building.

The General Department of Forensic Science and Criminology said it uncovered that the person had died exactly 63.5 hours prior to the discovery of the body.

This came thanks to a special forensic entomology database developed in collaboration with NSF International. It relies on the scientific application of insects and other arthropods that are usually found in decomposing vertebrate corpses or carrions.

The database hosts information on insects' larvae morphology, growth histories, species distribution and toxic contents in their tissue and how they change according to each stage of decomposition.

Major-General Ahmad Eid Al Mansouri, director of the General Department of Forensics and Criminology, noted that studying insect populations and larval stages enables the police to estimate the postmortem index, any change in the position of the corpse, and even the cause of death.

Major-General Ahmad Eid Al Mansouri
Major-General Ahmad Eid Al Mansouri

"Forensic entomologists can also determine and detect any alterations to corpse's position, manner and cause of death, which can help investigators find leads to close cases and provide reliable and scientifically proved evidence for court," Maj-Gen. Al Mansouri added.

Determining the exact time

Captain Dr Sarah Ali Al Maqhawi, head of the Medical Examination Department, said determining the time of death was “crucial”.

"In forensics, we normally give an approximate time of death for decomposed bodies, and in this case, a few days was our best estimation. However, things changed when we exposed a mouse corpse to similar conditions and observed the species of insects that came into being and fed on the dead rodent and waited until they evolved into the same larvae stage of the man's corpse in time of discovery.”


Captain Dr Sarah said the team had started conducting experiments to collect data from dead mice that were exposed to different geographical environments and climates.

"We distributed corpses of mice in mountains, shores, deserts, industrial areas and populated cities. We then put these under close monitoring, studied insects that fed on the mice over the decomposition process, made notes on how the environment variable affected the dead creatures and recorded the insects' larvae stages.

"These experiments contributed greatly to the Dubai Police forensic entomology database and enriched our knowledge on the link between policing and entomology," she added.


Lieutenant Hussein Al Marzouqi, assistant to biologist expert and scientific and field supervisor of the Forensic Entomologists Team, said the team had identified 21 species that feed on corpses over a year of experiments.

"In one of the experiments, we left a dead mouse in a desert area. When the decomposition stage reached the bones, we presented the remains to forensic experts who believed the corpse had been left at least in the desert for three months. However, the state of that the rodent reached took only three weeks," Lt. Al Marzouqi explained.

"This could not have been possible if we weren't aware of one type of ants called 'Camponotus Fellah', which inhabits the Middle East deserts and feeds on corpses and leaves them in a state that confuses forensic experts and investigators when determining the time of death," he added.

According to Lt. Al Marzouqi, forensic entomology has been utilised in policing for decades in the United States and Europe.

"There is a comprehensive and large database of hundreds of insect species that feed on dead flesh available for forensics in different parts of the world. We should have one that focuses on Arab regions and their environmental conditions and climates," Lt. Al Marzouqi said.

He confirmed that the Dubai Police are committed to completing the project by the end of the second quarter of this year.

"This project will revolutionise the scientific scene in the region with a comprehensive database that could be used to solve the mysteries of many criminal cases," Lt. Al Marzouqi added.


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