Date of Submission


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Forensic Science


Forensic Science


Christopher O'Brien


Diptera--Larvae, Human decomposition, Animal carcasses--Biodegradation


When a body’s temperature reaches ambient temperature after death, remote detection of the body can become difficult. At this point, useful search tactics include the use of cadaver dogs, search parties and aerial imaging devices, all of which can be costly and time-consuming for every day law enforcement use. This study investigated the potential of a novel search technique in which a small, unmanned aerial system (drone) mounted with a forward-looking infrared radar (FLIR) was utilized to detect decomposing animal carcasses via the heat generated by associated Diptera larval aggregations. Hot water baths were utilized as analogs for larval aggregations in order to simulate varying conditions that could be encountered during a search and recovery mission, such as different sized aggregations and varying differences in temperature between aggregations and the environment. Animal carcasses were also utilized to determine the effectiveness of this search technique within the Connecticut region based on the formation of larval aggregations and the associated detection of the carcass on the days following its placement. While this research demonstrated that a thermal drone could successfully detect larval aggregations associated with a decomposing carcass, it also demonstrated that there are limitations to when or how this technique can be implemented during a search and recovery mission. An increase in drone height limited the capability of detection due to the masking of the hot water analog’s and carcass’s thermal signature by the surrounding environment, with a smaller heat source experiencing greater masking effects. Detection and accurate location of larval aggregations was also more likely to occur when there was minimal wind and sunlight at the time of deployment, and when ambient temperature was ideal for larval growth and development. Ultimately, the successful detection of larval aggregations was dependent upon the ability of the drone operator to understand how these factors can affect detection and how to adjust search parameters to optimize the success of this search technique.


Committee members: Peter Massey, Sasha Voss