Interview with a forensic entomologist: interview with Dr. Byrd by senior editor Julie Brooks.
Forensic entomology (Analysis)
|Publication:||Name: The Forensic Examiner Publisher: American College of Forensic Examiners Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Law; Science and technology Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 American College of Forensic Examiners ISSN: 1084-5569|
|Issue:||Date: Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 21 Source Issue: 2|
|Topic:||Event Code: 200 Management dynamics|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
EDITOR: For those who are unfamiliar with the profession; how would you describe what a forensic entomologist does?
DR. BYRD: A forensic entomologist interprets, for the layperson, a number of ways in which insects can interact with our legal system. Those may be criminal cases and they may be civil in nature, but basically, any way an insect can interact with our legal system, a forensic entomologist may be needed.
EDITOR: What are the majority of types of cases that you work on?
DR. BYRD: It's usually a homicide investigation, often where the body has been recovered a significant period of time after death when many of the soft tissues have decomposed. So a lot of the traditional ways that a pathologist could possibly estimate the time of death are missing from the case at that point, so they call in the entomologist. So, it's generally criminal casework and where the body has been found and the pathologist is in need of a reliable method of determining a minimum portion of the postmortem interval.
EDITOR: What is your background with the field, and what first made you interested in forensic entomology?
DR. BYRD: I have been interested in forensic science since about 8th grade, and my goal was to actually become a crime scene analyst--so to speak--but I grew up on a very large farm, was often interested in agriculture, and one of the criteria to get into crime scene analysis at the time was a bachelor's degree in natural science. Entomology counted as a natural science, so I wanted to study entomology. When I got into entomology, I was steered in the direction of forensic entomology and the rest is history.
EDITOR: What are the differences in being an entomologist for local government versus the university?
DR. BYRD: Well, local government is, of course, focused on their constituents and the local area. At the university, because of the educational mission Of the university and distance education being the way it is, you end up with, certainly, a national focus and now an international focus ... so working at a university as large as the University of Florida, they re just as interested and supportive of me doing cases for our local sheriff versus federal law enforcement in other countries.
EDITOR: At what point in a crime scene investigation is a forensic entomologist usually called in?
DR. BYRD: Well, they may never be called: That's one of the things that we do in our educational mission is to teach law enforcement, crime scene investigators, medical examiners, coroners, and their investigators, how they can = actually process the scene and collect entomological evidence just as we can. So when they incorporate the collection of entomological evidence in their protocol is up to each individual agency. We generally prefer that the insects are collected before the body is removed from the scene, because if they just collect from the remains at autopsy and there's no scene visit, we may miss those insects that are older and could then give us a longer estimation of the period of insect activity on the body.
EDITOR: Are there any particularly interesting experiences you wish to tell us about?
DR. BYRD: Actually, the most interesting for me has been the development of the field of veterinary sciences and getting entomology incorporated in to veterinary forensics so they can use entomology to help in cases of animal cruelty and abuse, and the reason that's interesting is because when we do general forensic medicine for humans, our research model has either been a human or a pig (the physiology is similar), and when law enforcement comes to you, for the most part, they're dealing with a deceased individual. With veterinary forensic sciences when law enforcement comes to you on an animal cruelty case, you never know what they are going to bring you on a case. It could (be) a horse, a show goat, a cat, a dog, an emu, kangaroo ... so the variance in species that you get in the veterinary forensic sciences is quite interesting to me.
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