Friday, March 9, 2012

Just How Fast Can A Vulture Strip A Human Body?

This Associated Press story is a bit macabre but it's also pretty cool. Texas State University has a "body farm" where they study how bodies decompose. During one of the studies, the scientists assumptions were upended when vultures stripped a human body to bones in a matter of hours. 
Experienced investigators would normally have interpreted the absence of flesh and the condition of the bones as evidence that the woman had been dead for six months, possibly even a year or more. Now a study of vultures at Texas State University is calling into question many of the benchmarks detectives have long relied on. 
The time of death is critical in any murder case. It's a key piece of evidence that influences the entire investigation, often shaping who becomes a suspect and ultimately who is convicted or exonerated. 
"If you say someone did it and you say it was at least a year, could it have been two weeks instead?" said Michelle Hamilton, an assistant professor at the school's forensic anthropology research facility. "It has larger implications than what we thought initially."
I'm also not entirely surprised that vultures could strip a body so quickly. I regularly come across large dead animals such as deer when I'm out on my long distance runs. On occasion I've passed a large number of vultures working on a carcass. These birds are very aggressive in their activities and can reduce a deer carcass to bone in short order. It's not unusual for me to pass a freshly killed deer carcass one week and then when I pass by the following week to see the carcass completely stripped.

Morbid or not, I can't stress enough just how important forensic studies like this are. These types of studies improve the body of knowledge that is important for accurately interpreting crime scenes. 


  1. Well, that was pretty interesting! We have a lot of turkey vultures in our area, and since there's a lot of farmland and woodland they do a good business cleaning up roadkill!

  2. Li, I thought it was fascinating too. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Wow. I love CSI shows here, where those facts play an important part. NOw when I see the vultures circling over the hills, I will wonder what's for lunch.


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