Insects have an essential role in the decay and decomposition of carcasses and corpses and turn them into mere bones.
Turning a carcass into its bony remnants depends on the explosive influx of insect and microbial life that takes care of the decomposition process.
Role of Insects
Insects do a lot of work in processing and transformation. The careful and in-depth experimentation and observation entomologists have performed for decades have led them to determine the decomposition process, which can be divided into five stages.
The model describes how insects and microorganisms decompose a body and recycle nitrogen, phosphorous, carbon, and other nutrients needed by other organisms to survive.
The First Stage
This first or fresh” stage in decomposition involves death itself and the first occurrence of bloat. No outward physical signs are seen. The bacteria inside the carcass start digesting tissues.
The insects arrive within minutes or hours after death. The earliest arrivals are various flies from the families of blowflies (Calliphoridae), house flies (Muscidae), and flesh flies (Sarcophagidae). They are there to deposit their eggs in areas usually limited to cavities, such as the mouth and nostrils. They can also deposit eggs in open wounds. These soft tissues and their moisture content are the ideal habitats and food sources for fly larvae or maggots.
The Second Stage
In this stage, bloat, methane, and maggots enter the picture. The absence of oxygen inside the corpse is favorable to anaerobic microorganisms. They are bacteria that need environments without oxygen.
These microbes start to expel gases such as methane and hydrogen sulfide, causing the corpse’s abdomen to bloat. The body begins to darken in color, and a foul smell is now present.
Carcasses are not too familiar and are limited sources of nutrients because they quickly decay. Thus, many insects are hardwired to detect them even if they are many kilometers away.
In the bloating stage, the flies’ eggs hatch so that numerous maggots start to emerge and eat the dead flesh. Insects such as carrion beetles also begin to partake of the grisly feast.
The Third Stage
This is the stage of active decay, where the corpse slowly begins to deflate. The holes made by the larval insects release the gases within.
The tissues start liquefying, making the body look wet, and a putrid smell arises. Maggots begin to concentrate on feeding on the chest, and the beetles start increasing in number to eat the maggots.
The Fourth Stage
This occurs when most tissues have already been consumed, commencing the advanced decay stage. The putrid smell starts subsiding, and the majority of the maggots start going into the soil beneath to pupate.
Dermestid beetles (adults) then start to arrive and lay eggs. They feed on dry materials such as feathers and fur.
The Fifth Stage
This is the dry decay stage, where all that remains are dried skin, hair, bones, and cartilage. This point can detect almost no smell.
The larvae of the dermestid beetles clean the remaining skeleton. Dermestid beetles are routinely used in museums to clean skeletons to be displayed or collected.
A Necessary Process
The decomposition process is needed to cycles the nutrients in ecosystems. It recycles minerals and nutrients that are limited in supply for reuse by other living things.
The nutrients in the soil get used by plants, which are then eventually taken up higher in the food chain. Other nutrients go into the insects, dispersing them farther away from where they get utilized by other farther-flung organisms.
Insects are essential in the decay and decomposition of corpses and carcasses to help continue the life cycle.
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