Decomposition of Baby Pigs

Dr. Jerry Payne's time lapse movie of the decomposition of a baby pig. The film demonstrates the sequence of tissue destruction and the role of insects in the ultimate dismemberment of the pig carcass and soil movement.

Friday 16 January 2009 (9 years 8 months 7 days ago)
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Dr. Jerry Payne's time lapse movie of the decomposition of a baby pig. (The original 16mm film is archived in the Human Studies Film Archive of the Smithsonian Institute). The technique of time-lapse photography is employed to illustrate the rapid removal of carrion (4 days reduced to approximately 6 minutes). The film demonstrates the sequence of tissue destruction and the role of insects in the ultimate dismemberment of the pig carcass and soil movement. The pink and purple beads were added to show the intense activities of the insects in moving the carcass and soil.



Payne writes..."My study was the first "detailed" study of succession in animal decomposition and the first with the pig as the model. The significance of the pig is that it closely approximates the human body (skin, body hair, size etc.) so the data generated could be used in modern forensic science to approximate the time of human deaths. At that time it was simply not possibly (moral/ethical/legal concerns) to perform decompositon studies with human corpses, I know because I tried and was denied. Even so there were many instances where some concerned person buried my research pigs."

The pigs used in the experiment were dead when Jerry Payne picked them up from local farmers. Mama pigs (sows) often lay down on their tiny piglets and crush them. This was very common on small farms and led to the invention and deployment of farrowing pens(birthing pens) where the sow is contained and the piglets have a heated space where they are not in danger of being crushed.

Flies have four life stages: adult (the fly), egg, larva (the maggot) and pupa. Maggots crawl into dark, secluded places to pupate (the stage where they undergo the transformation from maggot to adult). Since the maggots are white or cream colored they are easily seen and taken by predators. Going undergroundand away from the carcass offers protection from uv light and predators and allows them seclusion to pupate. This pupal stage is immobile. Maggots don't have to burrow into the soil as they could easily conceal themselves in leaf litter or any decayed organic material.

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