The time taken for a body to decompose depends on climatic conditions, like temperature and moisture, as well as the accessibility to insects. In summer, a human body in an exposed location can be reduced to bones alone in just nine days.
Day 1 - State of decay
Although the body shortly after death appears fresh from the outside, the bacteria that before death were feeding on the contents of the intestine begin to digest the intestine itself. They eventually break out of the intestine and start digesting the surrounding internal organs. The body's own digestive enzymes (normally in the intestine) also spread through the body, contributing to its decomposition.
On an even smaller scale, enzymes inside individual cells are released when the cell dies. These enzymes break down the cell and its connections with other cells.
From the moment of death flies are attracted to bodies. Without the normal defences of a living animal, blowflies and house flies are able to lay eggs around wounds and natural body openings (mouth, nose, eyes, anus, genitalia). These eggs hatch and move into the body, often within 24 hours. The life cycle of a fly from egg to maggot to fly takes from two to three weeks. It can take considerably longer at low temperatures.
Day 7 (1 Week) - Stage 3: Putrefaction - 4 to 10 days after death
State of decay
Bacteria break down tissues and cells, releasing fluids into body cavities. They often respire in the absence of oxygen (anaerobically) and produce various gases including hydrogen sulphide, methane, cadaverine and putrescine as by-products. People might find these gases foul smelling, but they are very attractive to a variety of insects.
The build up of gas resulting from the intense activity of the multiplying bacteria, creates pressure within the body. This pressure inflates the body and forces fluids out of cells and blood vessels and into the body cavity.
The young maggots move throughout the body, spreading bacteria, secreting digestive enzymes and tearing tissues with their mouth hooks. They move as a maggot mass benefiting from communal heat and shared digestive secretions.
The rate of decay increases, and the smells and body fluids that begin to eminate from the body attract more blowflies, flesh flies, beetles and mites. The later-arriving flies and beetles are predators, feeding on maggots as well as the decaying flesh. They are joined by parasitoid wasps that lay their eggs inside maggots and later, inside pupae.
Day 14 (1 Fortnight) - Stage 4: Black putrefaction - 10 to 20 days after death
State of decay
The bloated body eventually collapses, leaving a flattened body whose flesh has a creamy consistency. The exposed parts of the body are black in colour and there is a very strong smell of decay.
A large volume of body fluids drain from the body at this stage and seep into the surrounding soil. Other insects and mites feed on this material.
The insects consume the bulk of the flesh and the body temperature increases with their activity. Bacterial decay is still very important, and bacteria will eventually consume the body if insects are excluded.
By this stage, several generations of maggots are present on the body and some have become fully grown. They migrate from the body and bury themselves in the soil where they become pupae. Predatory maggots are much more abundant at this stage, and the pioneer flies cease to be attracted to the corpse. Predatory beetles lay their eggs in the corpse and their larvae then hatch out and feed on the decaying flesh. Parasitoid wasps are much more common, laying their eggs inside maggots and pupae.
Day 30 (1 Month) - Stage 5: Butyric fermentation - 20 to 50 days after death
State of decay
All the remaining flesh is removed over this period and the body dries out. It has a cheesy smell, caused by butyric acid, and this smell attracts a new suite of corpse organisms.
The surface of the body that is in contact with the ground becomes covered with mould as the body ferments.
The reduction in soft food makes the body less palatable to the mouth-hooks of maggots, and more suitable for the chewing mouthparts of beetles. Beetles feed on the skin and ligaments. Many of these beetles are larvae. They hatch from eggs, laid by adults, which fed on the body in earlier stages of decay.
The cheese fly consumes any remaining moist flesh at this stage, even though it is uncommon earlier in decay.
Predators and parasitoids are still present at this stage including numerous wasps and beetle larvae.
1 Year -
1 Decade - Go to Comment
I tend to agree with Val on this, and have been neglengent in my duties toward this submission. Unfortunatly, my current class load is a bit prohibative towards my actively maintaining or researching for posts. Go to Comment