My research interests and activities revolve around the fields of forensic entomology and carrion ecology. Cadavers, including those of humans, are valuable and ephemeral resources and many organisms compete extensively for the right to claim them. My own expertise is carrion insects, particularly a family of flies known as blow flies (Diptera: Calliphoridae). By studying these flies we can gain insights into the competition for carrion and how that has affected various groups of organisms over time.


Recording and cataloging all of the species of carrion flies is important work. Here, a road-killed deer near Chadron, NE offers an opportunity for some impromptu research.


No, this is not a shot of me on secret commando-ops. This is me conducting research on the potential for flies to colonize fresh bodies (in this case a pig) at night. The equipment in the photo measures light intensity. Photo by Leon Higley.


These are mature ovaries of the blow fly Lucilia sericata. This fly was fed a diet of very decomposed liver, the same liver it fed on as a maggot. This demonstrates that flies successfully complete vitellogenesis with decayed food sources.


Given the choice, which cadaver will blow flies colonize? This might seem to be a no-brainer, but this research had never been done before, and carries some important ecological and legal implications along with it. Incidentally, flies go for the fresh body.



Identical pigs under nearly identical conditions. The pig on the left has been exposed to insect activity, while the pig on the right has been (largely) removed from insects. Both pigs have been exposed to the elements for one week, 10 meters apart from each other. Truly the power of insects is amazing. The grass around the pig on the left was killed by nitrogenous fluids seeping from the body. The maggots trailed it out of the bottom of the picture when they migrated from the corpse, killing the grass along the way.

Some of these maggots have fleshy spines on them, earning them the common name “hairy maggots”. These maggots, along with eating dead bodies, will also eat maggots of other species, making them pretty interesting. I took this picture while doing research in Australia, but we actually have an invasive species of hairy maggot blow fly (Chrysomyia rufifacies) right here in the United States. It shows up in Nebraska around mid-August.



Recent Publications



Huntington, T.E., L.G. Higley, F.P. Baxendale. 2007. Maggot Development During Morgue Storage and the Effects on the Estimation of the Postmortem Interval. Journal of Forensic Sciences 52 (2): 453-458. pdf


Huntington, T.E., D.W. Voigt, and L.G. Higley. 2008. Not the Usual Suspects: Human Wound Myiasis by Phorids. Journal of Medical Entomology 45(1): 157-159. pdf


Huntington, T.E., D.O. Carter, and L.G. Higley. 2008. Testing Multiple Generational Colonization of Carrion by Blow Flies in the Great Plains. Great Plains Research 18 (1): 33-38. pdf


Carter, D.O., J. Filippi, L.G. Higley, T.E. Huntington, M.I. Okoye, M. Criven, and J. Bliemeister. 2009. Using ninhydrin to reconstruct a disturbed outdoor death scene. Journal of Forensic Identification 59 (2): 190-195. pdf


Huntington, T.E. and L.G. Higley. 2010. Decomposed Flesh as a Vitellogenic Protein Source for the Forensically-Important Blow Fly Lucilia sericata (Meigen). Journal of Medical Entomology 47 (3): 482-486. pdf


Book Chapters

Huntington, T.E. 2007. The Application of Forensic Entomology to Mass Disasters, In M.I. Okoye and C.H. Wecht (eds.), Forensic Investigation and Management of Mass Disasters. Lawyers and Judges Publishing Company, Tucson, AZ. pp 265-274. link


Hall R.D. and T.E. Huntington. 2008. Medicocriminal Entomology, In N. H. Haskell and R. E. Williams (eds.), Entomology and Death: A Procedural Guide, 2nd Ed. Forensic Entomology Partners, Clemson, SC. pp 1-9.


Huntington, T.E. and L.G. Higley. 2008. Collection and Analysis of Climatological data, In N. H. Haskell and R. E. Williams (eds.), Entomology and Death: A Procedural Guide, 2nd Ed. Forensic Entomology Partners, Clemson, SC. pp 144-159.


Hall R.D. and T.E. Huntington. Perceptions and Status of Forensic Entomology, In J. H. Byrd and J. L. Castner (eds.), Forensic Entomology: The Utility of Arthropods in Legal Investigations, 2nd Ed. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. pp 1-16. link


Invited Book Reviews

Higley, L.G. and T.E. Huntington. 2009. Forensic Entomology: An Introduction. Journal of Medical Entomology 46 (5): 1244. pdf



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