The Bug in the Plan

In most parts of the world, if your car is stolen, the police will take some meaningful efforts to try to recover it — but that’s just about it. When it comes to finding the criminal behind the bad act, chances are the police don’t have the time nor resources to run a full-scale investigation. Sure, if the malfeasors identity falls into the authorities’ lap, they’ll make an arrest; similarly, they may do some digging if organized crime is suspected to be involved. But in general, even if you get your car back, it’s not like the police are going to go over it with a fine-toothed comb looking for clues as to who stole it.

But for authorities in Seinäjoki, Finland, apparently, this isn’t true — as one 2008 case shows.

Seinäjoki is located about a four-hour drive north from Helsinki or about an hour’s drive inland from the Gulf of Bothnia. (Here’s a map.) Home to just over 60,000 people, it’s one of Finland’s larger municipalities. And that year, the police came across a car parked suspiciously at the town’s train station. It turned out that the vehicle had been stolen weeks earlier from the town of Lapua, about a half-hour drive away. The police were able to recover the car on behalf of its true owner, but before they returned it, they looked inside for clues to help them identify the thief.

They didn’t find much, but they found enough — a mosquito.

The insect, according to the BBC, “had recently sucked blood.” And the only people who should have been in the car at the time were the thief and his various collaborators. Your blood contains your DNA, and that’s true whether it’s in your body or whether a tiny bit is sitting in a mosquito. So the Seinäjoki police ran the sample taken from the mosquito through their database — and they found a match.

The name of the suspect wasn’t immediately released, most likely because at that point, he hadn’t been convicted. (According to the Telegraph, “the suspect, who has been interrogated, has insisted he did not steal the car, saying he had hitchhiked and was given a lift by a man driving the car.”) But the authorities were confident they had found their man. Per the BBC, “Sakari Palomaeki, the police inspector in charge of the case, said it was the first time Finnish police had used an insect to solve a crime.”


Bonus fact: If you’re bitten by a mosquito, it’s almost certainly female. Mosquitoes, in general, feed on nectar, as most other insects do. But to procreate, they need to make eggs, which requires resources nectar (and water) can’t provide. They get it from these bites. According to Scientific American, “only the females bite, to acquire protein to make their eggs.”

From the Archives: Yes, You Can Get a DNA Match for the Dog Poop You Just Stepped In.