Geometric Morphometric Analysis of Third Instar Larvae of Common Blow Fly (Diptera: Calliphoridae) Genera for Forensic Identification

2019-08-15T14:47:25Z (GMT) by Gregory Nigoghosian

In terms of forensic entomology, one area that is scrutinized most is the estimation of a minimum post mortem interval (mPMI) based on insects that are present at a crime scene. The identification of the insects found at the scene if the first step to calculate a mPMI. However, currently there are no methods that can present the courts with accurate statistical error rates in identification, because the current methods are reliant on an expert’s use of a morphological key to identify the specimen, and this identification method does not produce a confidence value. This project aimed to test a method of identification using geometric morphometrics that can produce confidence intervals to provide to the courtrooms.

Before any identification could start, a standard preservation protocol was developed to ensure that all diagnostic features are preserved, and specimens can be identified in the same way. A clearing method was designed to clear specimens within 24hrs using potassium hydroxide, so they can be dissected and mounted the next day. The dissection of the specimens was a simple six-step procedure to split the mouth hooks, the cuticle and the posterior spiracle. This procedure ensures that all diagnostic features are preserved on a microscope slide.

With all of the features preserved, the microscope slide is photographed for storage and an investigator can perform geometric morphometrics to identify the insect. This study tested the application of geometric morphometrics to distinguish between three genera of Calliphoridae (Calliphora,Lucilia, Phormia), from three locations in the US (Delaware, Indiana, California). Results showed significant (p-value: <0.05) variation in shape among all genera. When genera were tested for shape differences based on location, these variations were also significant (p-value: <0.05). The implication of these results is that enough shape difference exists to distinguish between these genera and to distinguish between populations.