Splitting hairs: differentiating between entomological activity, taphonomy, and sharp force trauma on hair

Debora Mazzarelli, Stefano Vanin, Daniele Gibelli, Lara Maistrello, Davide Porta, Agostino Rizzi, Cristina Cattaneo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Purpose: The analysis of hair can provide useful information for the correct evaluation of forensic cases, but studies of trauma on hair are extremely rare. Hair may present lesions caused by traumatic events or by animals: in fact, signs of sharp force weapons on hair may provide important information for the reconstruction of the manner of death, and, for example, may suggest fetishist practice. This study stemmed from a judicial case where it was fundamental to distinguish between sharp force lesions and insect activity on hair. 

Methods: In order to highlight differences between sharp force lesions and insect feeding activity, different experiments were performed with high power microscopy: hair samples were subjected to several lesions by blunt and sharp force trauma; then samples were used as pabulum for two taxa of insects: the common clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella Lepidoptera, Tineidae) and the carpet beetle (Anthrenus sp., Coleoptera, Dermestidae). Hairs were examined from a macroscopic and microscopic point of view by stereomicroscopy and scanning electron microscopy (SEM): the morphological characteristics of the lesions obtained from the different experimental samples were compared. 

Results: Results show that sharp force trauma produces lesions with regular edges, whereas insects leave concave lesions caused by their “gnawing” activity. These two types of lesions are easily distinguishable from breaking and tearing using SEM. Conclusions: This study demonstrates that insect activity leaves very specific indications on hair and sheds some light on different hair lesions that may be found in forensic cases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-110
Number of pages7
JournalForensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology
Volume11
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2014

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