University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Treasure Box

Students learn forensics at one of Canada's few maggot ranches

In a remote corner of the U of T Mississauga campus, some hawks circle high above a “mass gravesite” that has caught their attention. Students in the forensic entomology program have been assigned to watch over thousands – if not millions – of bugs that inhabit one of Canada’s few maggot ranches. Here, 52 rats have been left to rot so that students can observe the rate at which the larvae of bluebottle and greenbottle flies develop in different seasons, temperatures and conditions. One day, researchers hope the work will allow them to determine with unprecedented accuracy the time at which a victim was killed. The work also teaches students the limitations of entomological data. Professor David Gibo, who runs the course, admits students are often squeamish at the beginning, but soon get into the spirit of the experiment. “They can’t wait to get a look,” he says. “It’s like opening a little treasure box.”

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