Carbaugh studies ants for possibility in forensic entomology

Hastings College visiting assistant biology professor Dr. Jason Carbaugh recently published a co-authored research article in the International Journal of Tropical Insect Science.

In the research, “Ants associated with a rat carcass: Its implications in forensic entomology with special emphasis on Carebara diversa (Hymenoptera: Formicidae),” Carbaugh studied a decomposed rat skeleton.

Jason Carbaugh
Dr. Jason Carbaugh

Typically, larvae of certain species of beetles and flies help break down a dead animal. Larvae can even be found in human corpses if the bodies are exposed too long and that process is often used for forensic entomology in criminal investigations. The specific stages of development for the larvae and the type of species present on the human corpse can indicate the time that an individual died.

When studying a decomposed rat skeleton, Carbaugh and his co-authors did not find beetles and flies, but they found four different ant species.

One of the present ant species, Carebara diversa, covered the entire carcass with soil particles on the first day, which may have prevented beetles and flies from laying eggs on the carcass. It was observed that ants were consuming tissues of the carcass.

“Ants are not widely used in forensic entomology and the research can potentially have an effect on a criminal investigation when ants are outcompeting beetles and flies on a carcass,” he said.

Even though the study was performed in the tropics with one replication, the general idea can be further studied in temperate areas like Nebraska with multiple replications.

Overall, Carbaugh said he believes more research is needed to gain a better understanding of the potential use of ants in forensic entomology and their role in decomposition ecology. To read more, the article is available online at

Co-authors on the research article include, Sarabjit Singh of Universiti Teknologi MARA, Nurul Ashikin Binti Abdullah of University of Malaya, and Chong Chin Heo of Universiti Teknologi MARA.

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