Nocturnal oviposition behavior of blowflies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) in the southern hemisphere (South Africa and Australia) and its forensic implications
Published research has offered contradictory evidence of the occurrence of nocturnal oviposition by carrion-breeding blowflies, a behavior that can affect the interpretation of forensic estimates of a minimum post mortem interval (minPMI) by up to 12 hours, depending on latitude and season. The majority of published studies are from the northern hemisphere. Field experiments were conducted in South Africa and Australia that extend observations to species of the southern hemisphere. Various vertebrate carrion was exposed at night in summer under different lunar phases and/or artificial lighting, and in woodland and pasture areas. Three laboratory experiments were also conducted. No nocturnal oviposition occurred outdoors in Berry, Australia, but Lucilia cuprina, Lucilia sericata and Chrysomya megacephala laid eggs outdoors at night in Grahamstown and Durban, South Africa. In laboratory experiments L. sericata, L. cuprina, Chrysomya chloropyga and Chrysomya putoria laid eggs and Calliphora augur deposited larvae under nocturnal conditions. Chrysomya albiceps and C. chloropyga laid eggs in darkness with increasing likelihood as ambient temperature increased. This study shows that nocturnal ovi/larviposition by carrion-breeding blowflies is possible in both South Africa and Australia. The forensic issue is therefore not whether nocturnal oviposition occurs, but rather whether the conditions of a particular case are more or less conducive to it. Circadian rhythms and physiological thresholds (particularly temperature and humidity) appear to act individually and in conjunction to stimulate or inhibit nocturnal laying. The significance of carcass size, freezing and handling of carcasses and comprehensive quantification for experimental design is discussed, and recommendations are made for future laboratory and case scene experiments.