pellets aren't gross -- they're educational
By Jason Sanders
Oh, the scores of “firsts” you can
experience at college. For many, it’s the first time
living away from home, the first significant other,
the first time pulling an all-nighter, and what about
this first: dissecting an owl pellet to search for skeletal
mice parts? That was the case today for students enrolled
in Living with Wildlife.
Instructor Robert Schmidt gave his
students two simple instructions: don’t lick your fingers
and enjoy the discovery. And with that, students dove
dived right into the world right into the world of owl
Many lessons came to light. First:
a pellet is not poop. It’s actually much worse-it’s
puke. However, it’s very necessary puke. Owls typically
swallow their prey whole and their stomachs can’t digest
everything; thus, the birth of the pellet. It’s basically
a collection of fur, feathers, bones and other specimen
that the owl regurgitates hours later. The charcoal-gray
pellet sizes up comparably to the human thumb and it
smells like… well, like an owl pellet.
Second lesson: be very careful when
handling bones of the rodent family. With tweezers and
a metal toothpick like instrument, the students delicately
dismembered the pellet. And with even the slightest
jerk of the wrist a bone could break. The key was slow
and steady prodding.
Many exciting discoveries ensued:
skulls, jawbones, legs and certainly the unknown. The
class received a “bone-sorting” handout for the less
obvious structures, and in no time students were also
collecting hips, ribs and shoulder blades.
It was more common than not to find
several of the same bone structures in one pellet. In
fact one student collected eight skulls in his pellet
alone-a new class record.
And the third lesson: owl pellets
aren’t gross after all; rather, they’re fascinating
educational tools. Several students walked away having
learned valuable lessons about the ecosystem. “I guess
I finally understand why we have rats,” said Kara Brown,
a junior majoring in Social Work.
Anatomizing owl pellets proved to
be a profitable “first” for many. And that begs the
question, what will college bring next? Whatever it
is, it surely won’t be as hair-raising as owl pellets.