To watch the X-Files' Dana Scully probe corpses, you'd think that every physician and scientist is expert in reading clues in maggot patterns. Not so. The American Board of Forensic Entomology (ABFE) lists just eight members; a total of 63 professionals practice this science worldwide. Forensic entomology is the study of arthropods, used to solve matters of legal interest, most often of a criminal nature. "It's mostly a repeated tale of human tragedy combined with some remarkable insect ecology," says Jeffrey Wells, assistant professor, department of justice sciences, University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Use of forensic entomology is spotty, compared to routine procedures such as ballistics or blood spatter, hair, and fiber analyses. "It depends on the area and the police force. Here in British Columbia it is pretty routine," explains Gail S. Anderson, an associate professor, school of criminology, at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C. "If the...

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