Bugging Out

Southeastern professor uses bugs to study crime scenes – and offers students unique research opportunities

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

At Southeastern, students at all levels of study have opportunities to participate in research. Those studying biological sciences also have the option to work with Associate Professor Erin Watson-Horzelski, the state's only doctoral-level forensic entomologist – giving students access to research projects that no other local institution can match.

In addition to teaching courses such as forensic biology and invertebrate zoology, as well as overseeing a research lab, Watson-Horzelski serves as a consultant to the FBI and local law enforcement agencies.

"Forensic entomology is often used to estimate the time since death in homicides or other cases," said Watson-Horzelski. "We study the development rates of insects directly associated with decomposing remains in order to provide estimates of time since death. In many cases, insect evidence can be pivotal in determining the amount of time a person or wildlife has been deceased."

Watson-Horzelski maintains an outdoor "body farm" of decomposing pig carcasses that she and her students use in studying the insects and topsoil microbes associated with cadaver decomposition islands.


Watson-Horzelski, left, associate professor of biological sciences at Southeastern Louisiana University, works with graduate student Danielle Levron of Cut Off to collect insects used in forensic entomology research.

Research in her lab includes development studies of flies and beetles for postmortem estimations and life history studies of the hairy maggot blow fly, a recent invader in the area that is impacting the native insect species at the crime scene.

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