Dead Bodies (WARNING: Graphic detail, may be disturbing to some readers!)

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On NaNoWriMo, today, I found THIS QUESTION:

Okay, for the gruesome topic of the day – the decomposition of dead bodies.

I found the basics online, but its still leaving me somewhat fuzzy on what I need to know.

I have an enclosed area–think like a coliseum, but not; there’s just an open but enclosed area due to some rather tall walls falling down. People were standing on these walls, so there are now people all smooshied under the rocks. There was also a rather violent battle, so you have blood and corpses everywhere. Fast forward to the survivors.

This happened at night, think late evening. The two survivors will finally be dug out the next day, late (way late) afternoon or early (still sunny) evening. And its ramping up to be a very hot and occasionally still day.

I’m having trouble figuring out what they will suffer. How soon before maggots are apparent to the naked eye? First thing in the morning? Later in the day? Not at all? If the bodies spent the cool of the night just laying around being dead and then took the full sun in the day, would the bloating start immediately due to the heat, or would it still take up to two weeks?

And I am going under the assumption, of course, that the smell will very quickly become abominable, but is that really true? How bad is bad?

Will nearly 24 hours of close quarters with dead bodies run the risk of making them ill, or are they most likely just to gag? And for that matter, how close is “close quarters?” They do have some room to put the bodies on one side and themselves way on the other and put a significant amount of yards between them. What about the fact my survivors have no food or water, would that contribute to a loweringof the immune system, or would that take several days?

What about touching the bodies? Will it just leave an unpleasant smell on their hands, or something worse? Would wiping them in the dirt help, even a little? Is it a good idea to stack the bodies in the corner as far from them as possible, or just leave them be?

Anyone know more about human biology than I do? In absence of an expert, I’ll happily take a decently helpful website or even a book suggestion.


I deal with dead bodies regular.

In the summer the smell is noticeable after only 2 or 3 hours, but not a big problem. Around 12 hours the smell is intolerable and will require some sort of a face mask in order to breath while in the presence of the body. If the body has been dead more than a day a gas mask may be required. (Yes, the smell IS THAT BAD!) Do not believe what you see on shows like CSI or LAW & Order… in real life, you are not going to see suits looking at bodies in the field, and in real life, recovery teams wear masks so they will be able to breath once they are in the region of the body.

The smell can travel for some distance as well. A body dead a week, can be smelt as far as 500 yards away….more than an acre. Once you smell a dead body you will never forget it either. And after 20 years, I can tell you you never get used to it.

The smell itself is somewhat like that of very rotted brie mixed with very rotten eggs.

Flies are attracted to the smell, so within the first 2 or 3 hours, flies will start showing up. By 12 hours the body will be more or less engulfed with flies. By this time the body with be covered with tiny white dots. These are eggs. Most of the eggs will have been laid on strands of hair: on the head, eyelashes, beard, chest hair, etc. How soon the eggs hatch depends on the type of fly in question, but I have seen bodies dead only 4 or 5 hours and already have maggots crawling beneath the flesh.

When the maggot hatch, the first thing they do is burrow under the skin, leaving tiny holes, like pock-marks all over the skin. They burrow down deep and eat all of the inner flesh. If there are only a few maggots, than it could take several days for them to surface and start eating the skin. However, if there is a heavy infestation: one fly can lay thousands of eggs, so a few hundred flies can quickly equal a few million maggots. In the case of a heavy infestation, the body could be reduced to bone in less than 24 hours… I have personally seen this, and believe me it is not a pretty site.

When maggots start to surface the first thing you’ll see is not the maggots. The skin will appear to be moving, sort of like jello when you shake it. By the time the maggots break through the skin and resurface, they are hugely engorged and resemble grubs, rather than what one normally thinks of when they thing of maggots.

Additionally, beetles will congregate and burrow under the skin, and hollow out the carcass. The beetle may also eat the maggots.

Frogs, toads, snakes, lizards, mice, rats, and other small animals may also burrow inside of the body. This would depend upon where the body was. Near a swamp, you’d expect to see snakes and toad inside the body. In a city alley way, you’d see mice or rats.

Bloating and maggots don’t mix. The maggots will have eaten the flesh before the body has had time to bloat. Not that you can’t have both, it’s just that the maggots move fast, and are likely to have eaten most of the flesh within the first 2 or 3 days. Bloating is more likely to be seen with a body that has been under water, where you are also least likely to see maggot infestation.

Also, the cool of the night will not help, because unless it goes below 32F or -1C it will not be cool enough. Even in subzero winters, bodies still rot and smell, it just takes a lot longer. (Though the damage is less because no flies in winter = no maggots). A body must be completely frozen solid (by putting it in a freezer) in order to stop rot and smell.

As for touching… in the heat of summer, the body becomes like butter after about 24 – 48 hours. Touching it will result in your hand passing totally through the flesh. The body can not be moved intact, as trying to lift the body, all you will do if lift the skeleton, while the flesh sort of *melts* off the bones and falls to the ground in a greenish-yellowish-black goop. The feel of rotted flesh falling off bone, is like the same feeling as stepping on a big slug while barefoot….wet, sticky, slimy, squishy, slippery, and sickeningly soft.

In the spring and fall, when weather is cooler, the bodies would *keep* longer, but not more than a week, even than.

During a cold winter the body may or may not keep for 3 or 4 months, depending of how many *hot days* there were during the winter.

When stacking bodies, they should each be put in a plastic bag first, otherwise you’ll be scraping them up with a shovel later on.


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Thank You Kitty

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