Tiny witness

• Dr Paola Magni cracks murder mysteries with the help of flies. Photo supplied

NEXT time a pesky fly buzzes around you, rather than just swatting it, you might want to consider whether its a vital witness for a homicide investigation.

It sounds a little far-fetched, but forensic biologist Paola Magni uses entomology (the study of insects) to help investigate murder mysteries.

Dr Magni will be sharing stories from her bizarre profession at TEDxFremantle on September 16, which sold out online in 40-minutes and will showcase inspirational speakers talking on the theme of Perception vs Reality.

“Insects can give you information about the time a crime happened, and the nature of the crime,” Ms Magni says.

Her TED talk will challenge the perception of flies as “nasty and something you don’t want around”; presenting them as “the keeper of secrets and the witnesses of crime”.

She says insects store information when they eat part of a dead body, becoming a form of evidence.

“You are what you eat,” she says. “Flies are the same. If they eat part of a person who had died of a drug overdose, you will find that drug in the fly.”

She says it’s possible to tell if someone was a victim of violence before death due to the different “juices” on the body that a fly might find delectable.

“When someones dies everyone wonders how,” she says.

“You look for a shotgun wound or an overdose clue and you ask a pathologist to perform an autopsy or a toxicologist to get urine or blood samples.

“But if the body is decomposed or you only have bones, you lose a big piece of the evidence, so if you find bugs on or around the body you can get this evidence back.”

Ms Magni says she was able to help solve one case with the presence of a firefly.

“It was present in the body, and this told us the body was moved from a place where fireflies were present to where it was found.”

Ms Magni lectures in forensic science at Murdoch University when she’s not examining bugs at crime scenes.

She’ll be joined by an equally interesting line-up of speakers including Dr Sam Baron, who’ll have the audience questioning everything they thought they knew about time.

by MOLLY SCHMIDT

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