How one entomologist used grasshoppers to help solve a murder

There are plenty of things that insects can tell people about a crime scene. But can they map out the movements of a murderer? In one case, they did.

A grasshopper is more of a tattletale than we give it credit for. These little hoppers all look the same to the untrained eye, but to an entomologist, they are more telling than a regional accent. There are many different species, and they vary from location to location, keeping to one pocket of the area. Any grasshopper found outside its area had to be carried there.

That’s what convicted one man of murder. The FBI tracked the man to Ohio, where he rented a car. He claimed he’d stayed in Ohio. They said he’d driven to California. While they didn’t have any real way of making sure he’d driven a long distance from the car, they did notice the splattered bugs on the windshield of the car. An entomologist from UC Davis was brought in to find the bug fragments. After identifying wing casings and small legs, she was able to prove that he most definitely had been west of the Rocky Mountains. A Californian grasshopper and a wasp found only in California were found on the car. The entomologist was even able to tell that the man had only travelled at night, because only nocturnal insects were lodged in his car.

The man was found guilty of murder, and forensic entomology scored one more win.

Sources:

Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart

Landmark Criminal Case: UC Davis Entomologist Links Insects on Suspect's Car Radiator with Whereabouts [UC Davis]

Photo credit: William Cho, Wikimedia Commons.