Animal Detectives: Feline Forensics and Intuitive Insects

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From sniffing for bombs and drugs to tracking down missing persons, dogs have been trained to use their strong sense of smell in the pursuit of justice. While bloodhounds and other canines may first come to mind when thinking of animal detectives, they are not the only creatures that can help solve crimes and put away slime. Turns out that dog’s worst friend – the cat – and an insect that most humans would like to avoid – wasps – also have some surprising value in the world of law enforcement.

If the Cat Fur Sticks, You Must Not Acquit

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Cat owners can attest to how much cats love to groom themselves, shedding tons of hair on pillows, couches, floors and other areas of the home. Often viewed as an annoyance, discarded cat hair turned out to be a crucial piece of evidence in a 1994 murder case in Canada. Inside a bloody jacket next to a murdered woman were two strands of white car fur. The jacket was believed to be owned by the woman’s ex-husband, and the fur was genetically linked through DNA analysis to a cat named Snowball, owned by the suspect’s parents. Ultimately, the cat fur contributed to conviction of the suspect, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

CSI CAT-alonia?

(Cat DNA Image via: Flickr)

(Cat Genome Image via: About)

Law enforcement officials have noted how cat fur is like a silent witness that can be brought to the scene of the crime (such as in the landmark Canada case) or carried away from the scene (such as from the home of a cat owner). Given the potential of cat fur as forensic evidence in millions of homes, an international team of scientists recently developed an extensive DNA database that includes different cat furs. The database currently features 1,396 different cat DNA sequences to be used by crime scene investigators and forensic experts. The scientists expect to add dog hair sequences to the DNA database in the future.

The Sting: Starring Paul Newman and Thousands of Wasps

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Like dogs, wasps are masters at olfactory detection. In recent years scientists have trained wasps to smell for different chemicals, simply by feeding them sugar water and introducing them to a specific smell (such as caffeine). The wasps have demonstrated a quick ability to pick up on these smells in as little as 10 seconds and just 2 to 3 repeated trials. Especially interesting, the wasps will swarm to the trained smell when detected. According to entomologists, wasps display great potential to detect anything, including drugs and human remains. Given that thousands of wasps can be trained to detect a specific smell in just 10 to 15 minutes, the entomologists added that there could be a day when wasps replace the bomb-sniffing dogs that we’ve all come to love.

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