This is a follow up to my article about how long it takes for a body to decompose. All my research indicates that smell can develop within 24 hours of death. That being said, however, the environment that the body is in will affect how it breaks down. If the body is in a desert environment, free from moisture and low on soil bacteria, it will dry out and smell less than in an moist, bacteria rich environment. When maggots get to it, decomposition is rapidly sped up and the smell will intensify. Bear in mind, however, that the above information refers only to the body itself and not to any other factors; for example, when a person dies, any urine or faeces built up will automatically release as there is no muscle tone to hold these materials in. So; in a nutshell; within 24 hours of death.
Animals’ bodies are amazingly adept at returning their nutrients to the earth to begin the cycle of life anew. Within a few hours after we die, the cells in our bodies use up the rest of the available oxygen and autolysis begins (auto = self and lysis = cell death). Our bodies literally begin to break down our cells. Bacteria that naturally inhabit our intestinal tract when we are alive begin to consume the dead cell material. A biproduct of this consumption is the release of hydrogen sulphide, ammonia and methane. These gases, trapped inside the body cavity, cause the flesh to expand and bloat.
Sometimes the skin will rupture, releasing these gases and causing the characteristic rotting odour. If the skin does not rupture, the trapped gas will force the rapidly liquifying tissue out of the body cavities – the nose and mouth for example. If insects can get to the body, they will lay eggs and larvae will hatch and begin to eat the flesh, opening it up to other, larger carrion eaters feed.
If undisturbed, this process will continue until there is nothing but cartilage, bone, and dry skin. Evidence of decay can be found in the surrounding ground. Soil samples will reveal increased levels of phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
As unpleasant as this subject can be, it really fascinates me how well our bodies are designed for recycling – maybe a fourth “R” is in order: reduce, reuse, recycle (and after death), rot.