Blow flies, flesh flies, maggots and carcass beetles — not what most people think about on a regular basis unless they work in the field of forensic entomology. This is the study of insects as related to legal investigations, but actually goes much deeper than that particularly for crime scenes and criminal investigations. In forensic entomology programs, students learn about the various stages of bodily decomposition based on the type of insects that are present. It enables them to determine the elapsed time of death in a human body, and is also useful in determining whether a body has been moved to a secondary site or if animals or a criminal have returned afterward to a scene.
There are NOT an excessive amount of forensic entomology programs available in the U.S. and most students enter the field by completing an entomology degree and then specializing in the forensic sciences or even minoring in forensic entomology if available. The North American Forensic Entomology Association notes that undergraduate and graduate students are important to the field and that the organization should continue to find ways to provide support to them.
Purdue University Department of Entomology, based in Lafayette, Ind., offers a minor in forensics at the undergraduate level. Students in the program take courses such as Introduction to Forensic Science and Criminalistics, and choose electives from courses like Introduction to Insect Behavior, Forensic Entomology and Taphonomy (the study of decaying organizations and their fossilization process), and Forensic Digital Evidence. A total of 10 credits in forensic entomology courses are required and an additional 9 elective credits need to be completed to obtain this minor degree.
University of California, Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology offers a bachelor’s of science degree in entomology. (Nematology is the study of roundworms for those who are wondering). After students have completed their core coursework, they can complete a minor in one of five concentration areas, including forensic entomology. Students in this minor complete 22 credit hours, taking a forensic entomology class, a biological science and Evolution and Ecology or a similar class.
Texas A&M University, in College Station, Texas, has a Forensic & Investigative Sciences Program available at the undergraduate level that gives students the option to pursue a science or pre-law emphasis. The program is offered through the university’s Department of Entomology. Within the science emphasis, students take classes such as the Science of Forensic Entomology, Forensic Soil Science, and Applied Forensic Entomology. A seminar course, professional internship, directed studies, special topics and research are also part of the degree and help round out a student’s learning experiences. An Aggie Forensic and Investigative Sciences Organization is also available to undergraduate and graduate students and features an autopsy trip every semester.
University of Nebraska, students can complete a master’s of science degree in entomology that includes insect education, natural history and components of forensic and medical entomology. The program is available completely online and gives students the option to complete coursework that is relevant to their career and applicable to their profession. Of the many elective options available in this 36-credit program are classes specifically geared toward the forensic sciences such as Insect Toxicology, Bloodstains as Evidence and Forensic Entomology.
University of Huddersfield, in West Yorkshire, while it is in the United Kingdom, does offer a master’s of science degree in forensic entomology. This one-year full-time program includes six different learning modules in the forensic sciences. The forensic entomology module enables students to learn about postmortem interval estimations (PMIs) and postmortem transfer identification. A research project also needs to be completed and requires 50 days of laboratory work. A limited number of spaces are available and applicants should have an honors degree in a science field or related area.
Montclair State University, in Montclair, New Jersey, offers a two-week workshop flush with classroom lectures, field work and lab activities. Students actually learn how to collect insects and other types of evidence from staged scenes and how to use photography as a form of additional documentation. The workshop is $500 for one week and $750 for both weeks and students also have opportunities to participate in archery, boating, hiking and other activities available courtesy of the NJ School of Conservation.
This list of six Universities with Forensic Entomology Programs provides a launching point for students interested in gaining more specific skills in the field. It is not mean to be exhaustive, and there are many additional schools that offer a specific forensic entomology class or courses, but few that provide concentrations, minors, or much less full degrees. Students who are interested in overseas experiences or studying outside of the United States may be able to find additional opportunities for full degrees and graduate-level options, but in the U.S. may find choices somewhat limited unless they seek research and other educational opportunities.
Barry is Managing Editor of ForensicsColleges.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Barry was previously VP for a financial software company, and currently sits on the board of a K-8 school and lives with his wife and daughters in the San Francisco Bay Area.