Applied Anthropology

What role do flies play in the decomposition of a dead body?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. The entire life cycle of flies plays an important role in the decomposition of a dead body. First, a fly lays up to 300 eggs on the outside of the body, which hatch within a day. The fly larvae -- maggots -- are very efficient at consuming flesh and start by scooping up fluids being expelled from the corpse. Within a day, the maggots enter their second larval stage and burrow into the body. They operate as a social unit and feed on decaying flesh, and they also spread enzymes that break the body down into gelatinous goo. Because of the structure of maggots' mouths, they can actually breathe and eat at the same time. They do so nonstop until they leave the body about seven days later as prepupae. At that point, they will have consumed up to 60 percent of a dead human body.

    The topic of flies feasting on dead bodies might seem a bit icky and gross to some, but studying what happens to a body during decomposition, especially in different kinds of environments, is an important effort for those in law enforcement. The use of body farms -- facilities set up to study body decomposition -- gives researchers and law enforcement officials access to invaluable information. These facilities are in need across the country, because research conducted on human remains in a variety of environments gives scientists data critical to the analysis of bodies found under those same circumstances. A body farm in Arizona, for example, would be able to provide more information on body decomposition in a desert climate -- the effects of which vary widely -- than would a body farm located in the mountains of Virginia or the wetlands of Florida. Ideally, there would be body farms in every state, together providing local law enforcement and researchers with a pool of the most accurate data possible.

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