Anatomy and Ecology Lab Supplies for St. Louis Science Students
Help me give my students the opportunity to analyze the diet and food web of the unique bird of prey, the owl. Students will also benefit from reconstructing the skeletal anatomy of the rodents that compose owl's diet.
I teach secondary biology electives. This means that my population of students is composed of upperclassmen motivated to pursue further education and possibly careers within the field of science. Many of my students are currently enrolled in CNA, EMT, veterinary technician, engineering, and sports medicine majors offered by our high school. In spite of my students' high levels of ability, excellent motivation, and potential futures in STEM fields; their district, school, and instructor lack the funding to make frequent dissection labs a possibility.
Students researching food webs and ecosystems as wells as students analyzing the comparative skeletal anatomy of the small rodents that compose the owl's diet have much to gain from the dissection of owl pellets.
Most birds cannot chew their food and owls are no exception.
Owls usually swallow their prey whole. However, owls differ from other species of birds because they do not have a crop, the baglike organ used to store food after it has been swallowed so that it can be digested later. In owls, food passes directly from the mouth to the gizzard. The gizzard is an organ that uses digestive fluids and bits of sand and gravel to grind and dissolve all of the usable tissue from the prey.
The types of tissue that can be dissolved by an owl's digestive system include muscle, fat, skin, and internal organs. These tissues are broken down into a variety of nutritional substances by the owl's gizzard and intestines. Some of these tissues (e.g., fur and bones) cannot be digested. The digestible material, along with other waste collected throughout the body, is ejected from the vent, which is the combination reproductive and excretory opening in birds. The pasty white excrement is known as urea. It is very rich in nitrogen and similar to urine in mammals, only thicker.
But what happens to the indigestible material? Indigestible material left in the gizzard such as teeth, skulls, claws, and feathers are too dangerous to pass through the rest of the owl's digestive tract. To safely excrete this material, the owl's gizzard compacts it into a tight pellet that the owl regurgitates. The regurgitated pellets are known as owl pellets.
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