Bees can Help Investigators Find Deceased Bodies of Missing People

Bees can help Investigators find deceased bodies of missing people a new study reveals. Scientists at the George Mason University in Northern Virginia, US, made a ground-breaking discovery. The institution is the newest of the country´s few body farms. A body farm is a research facility where scientists study the decomposition of humans and animals in a various different settings. These facilities help researchers to explore the potential use of bees to solve murder investigations.

Mary Ellen O’Toole, the Forensic Science Program Director at GMU, worked almost three decades for the FBI before she retired. During her service she investigated a number of high-profile cases. O´Toole explained,

“If a human body is dumped outside, they begin to decompose, and honey bees, just by virtue of how they act in nature, they fly around and they land on flowers and other things. And then they take that back to their hives. They’re going to be able to tell us where someone has been dumped, where someone is laying outside and decomposing.”


Bees can carry traces of decomposing Carcasses back to their hive

Bees, have electrostatic hairs (scopa) used to collect pollen as they forage. When a bee lands on a decomposing body, particles will stick to the scopa. When they return to the hive forensics can detect these particles.

At the GMU body farm, researchers are studying decomposition in different environments. Emily Rancourt, the forensic science program associate director at GMU knows how difficult it can be to establish the time since death of human remains. Rancourt, a former police crime scene specialist, wants to bring answers to the families whose relative is missing. With the help of this research facility, she hopes to collect data that will help future generations of crime-scene investigators and bring closure to families with missing loved ones.

A New Path of Investigation

O’Toole explains that when someone goes missing, bees can help investigators in locating missing bodies, providing critical breakthroughs in cold cases. Investigators can contact beekeepers and test their bee hives for evidence of body decomposition. If traces are found, it could mean that the body is located within a two-to-five mile radius from the hive. Bees naturally fly around and land on various objects which they then take back to their hives; this makes them valuable resources in narrowing down search areas for missing persons cases. She said,

“If it tests positive, then we can estimate that the body is likely within two to five miles of those hives where the bees are. We’re talking about narrowing down, could be 100 miles it could be 50 miles, but from an investigative perspective, that’s a big area to cover. To be able to determine is somebody out here? Has somebody been left out here are their human remains decomposing out here? They’re going to be little scientists on our behalf and I think that’s going to be remarkable.”

Currently, funding for research at GMU’s body farm is limited and donations would go a long way toward helping smaller agencies to improve their cases with this data gathered here. Through further study of environmental factors such as soil type and seasonal changes on decomposition rates, O’Toole believes this research could have far-reaching implications not only for Virginia but also for solving murder mysteries across the country.

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