Sunday, July 13, 2003

Ghoulish pleasure

Indianapolis is deeply involved with publishing and distributing books, so it's easy to find cheap ones on about any topic imaginable. And since I'm interested in most of that, I wind up with books about a little of everything. I'm sure a shrink would have some fun noting recently acquired books on crying and two different books about cadavers.

You'll have to wait for the crying one and I'm only partway through the first cadaver book. Actually the name is "Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death". Most of the volume of this small book is about the entomological and other research that has gone into providing estimates of the time of death. It's far less exact than some would have you believe, and in one whopper a leader of the discipline erred by about a century. There are no pictures, and for all the talk of odors there's not even a scratch-and-sniff.

One has to admire the dedication it must have taken to carry out this research. For instance, corpses are covered with maggots very soon after death, and it is very important to know one kind of maggot from another. You might think maggots are fairly featureless, and that's mostly true, but entomologists are up to the task of identifying the species. How? By examining what conceptually at least is one of the most disgusting things around - the maggots' anuses. And their anal spiracles, through which they breath - that's pretty disgusting too, but then think of what's happening on the other end. Anyway, different species have different designs of anal spiracles, and these change during their various larval phases (instars). Sorry, no pictures of this either.

Gosh, I can hardly wait for the rest of the book. But first I'm gonna go to the refrigerator and eat some of the dead flesh therein. Bon appetit.

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