The Miami Herald profiles Susan Gruner, a forensic entomologist and doctoral student at the University of Florida, who recently cowrote a paper describing the largest-ever field study to catalog the heat generated when maggots congregate. The point: to understand more about flies’ life cycle and trace it backward to determine when a corpse they fed on expired. The results can help investigators and lawyers determine guilt or innocence in murder investigations where time of death is a factor.
It takes a special kind of scientist to stomach the work, which gives gross anatomy a new meaning. Gruner thinks maggots are “adorable.” For her study, she spent two years carrying dozens of dead pigs onto a patch of farm loaned to her and coauthor Dan Slone, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville. She monitored the 60-pound pigs carefully, and her work is helping to build a database and set standards that will inform forensic entomologists, who often are called on to testify in murder cases.