In the pictures above I used fondant to make the hand/insects, water colors for the paint, cake for the base, toothpicks for the labels, and real Alaskan bear bone that my brother-inlaw hunted this year. 🙂
Although it’s not something we like to think about, human or animal decomposition, it is the way nature recycles materials and keeps systems in balance. As tragic and heartbreaking as death is for us, there is a beauty about how creatures and the environment assist the body in the decomposition process.
Now when a person dies, there are five stages of decomposition that humans and animals’ remains go through as the materials they are made of, return to the earth.
Stage 1 – Initial Breakdown
As soon as death occurs, the body temperature starts cooling to match the surrounding temperature around it. Without blood and oxygen flow, muscular tissues become rigid and the blood pools into the lower extremities. As the bacteria in the intestines eat up the intestinal walls, cells lose their structural integrity. Cellular enzymes are released to begin breaking down the cells themselves and surrounding tissues, while microbes also start breaking down carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids. Most of this breakdown occurs inside the body and is not visible from the outside. At the end of this stage, insects like blowflies and flesh flies arrive to lay eggs.
Stage 2 – Bloating
As bacteria multiplies and processes bodily materials, they produce gasses such as methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and hydrogen sulfide which bloat the body. These gasses build up pressure in the body and push fluids out through natural openings including the mouth, nose, and anus. If insects are present, maggots begin to hatch and feed on body tissues causing the skin to slip, the hair to detach, and the surface to unravel. These additional openings provide even more surface area for insects and bacteria, thereby speeding up the decaying process. This emitting of gasses and fluids is what causes the greatest amount of odor during the decaying process.
Stage 3 – Active Decay
It’s during the active decaying process the most body mass is lost due to bacteria and insects processing the body material along with liquids being released into the surrounding environment. During this stage, the area of decomposition expands into the surroundings and the most insects are present while they feed on bodily fluids. This stage ends when the maggots leave the body.
Stage 4 – Advanced Decay
By this stage, most soft tissues have already decomposed and only bones, hair, cartilage, ligaments, and sticky byproducts of decomposition are left. Insects with chewing mouthparts such as beetles and certain types of flies are attracted at this stage and arrive to chew on and process this tougher material.
Stage 5 – Dry Remains
The last stage is when all body parts of decomposition have dried up and only the skeleton and perhaps some hair are left. Beetles and flies eat anything softer that remains, and mites and moth larvae digest the hair. Exposed to the elements, the bones lighten in color and eventually return to the earth fully.
Speed of Decomposition
How quickly a body decomposes depends on several factors: surrounding temperature, whether the body is buried or exposed to air or water, and the number of bacteria present. A body that is exposed to the elements such as air and water will decompose faster and have more insect activity than a body buried or confined in a sealed space. For example, a body decomposing in warm temperatures will break down faster than if it is left in a cold environment. The exception to this is if the temperature is so hot that moisture, a needed component in decay, isn’t present. In that case, the body mummifies and dries out.
However fast or slow a body decomposes and goes through these five stages, it is nature’s way of releasing the materials back into the earth so new life can be born again.