Mice, foxes and cadavers: Forensic anthropological implications from an experimental study

Indra, Lara Isabelle; Moser, Valentin; Milella, Marco; Errickson, David; Lösch, Sandra (31 August 2023). Mice, foxes and cadavers: Forensic anthropological implications from an experimental study (Unpublished). In: FASE 20th Anniversary Symposium. Marseille. 30.08.-01.09.2023.

Vertebrate scavengers are a common taphonomic variable that can severely affect human remains, especially outdoors. Their gnawing on soft tissue and bones can destroy perimortem injuries and create new lesions that mimic legally relevant alterations, hampering trauma analysis. Furthermore, vertebrate scavengers are capable of scattering or removing body parts and single skeletal elements, challenging the complete recovery of remains and the reconstruction of perimortem events. Being aware of the local scavenger fauna can be crucial in forensic casework.
We monitored three caged and three exposed domestic pig (Sus scrofa domesticus) cadavers in a temperate forest near Bern in Switzerland, for five months during summer and fall. We placed motion-activated camera traps to record all vertebrate activity at and near the cadavers, and described their activity. During on-site data collection events, we documented any scavenger-related alteration to the carcass to match it with the respective species via comparison with the camera footage.
We captured 36 vertebrate species at and around the cadavers, with three of them scavenging the pigs: red fox (Vulpes vulpes), mouse (Apodemus sp.) and bank vole (Myodes glareolus). All pigs were scavenged and scavengers were mainly active during night and at tree-covered plots with caged specimens. Our documented scavenging modifications are congruent with published lesions. In addition, mice gnawed perimortem skin injuries and altered them beyond recognition. All three scavengers were recorded to remove bones from the deposition site and the recovery rate of the six pig skeletons was 77%.
Our findings inform forensic casework, in particular, search and recovery efforts and trauma analysis of cadavers. Investigations on human remains recovered from European temperate forests should focus on rodents and foxes as the main scavengers and forensic practitioners should be aware of their ability to modify and mimic perimortem injuries, and scatter and remove bones.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Service Sector > Institute of Legal Medicine > Anthropology

UniBE Contributor:

Indra, Lara Isabelle, Milella, Marco, Lösch, Sandra


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology




Lara Isabelle Indra

Date Deposited:

05 Sep 2023 12:05

Last Modified:

05 Sep 2023 12:05

Uncontrolled Keywords:

Vertebrate scavenging; Switzerland; forensic taphonomy; experiment



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