“Owl Pellets” lyrics from the song by MC Paul Barman will forever be remembered by Western Wayne Science students in Dr. Mark Nebzydoski’s classes. The song goes, “Owls/ Scoop prey in their jowels/ Bones and fur stay in the gullet/ Meat goes to the bowels/ Comes out like a bullet/ After six hours.”
Nebzydoski’s students spent some time in their February lessons learning about ecology through a lab in which they had to dissect owl waste pellets to then reconstruct the animals and organisms the owls had eaten.
Students first read about different types of owls and owl pellets. Then they studied pictures of what gopher, weasel, rabbit, vole, mole, bird, and rabbit skeletons would look like when they got the bones to put them together from the owl regurgitate pellets.
Overall students enjoyed learning about ecology in this very hands-on lab despite some of the dirty work they had to do to get the animal bones.
“I feel I learn better when I am doing something instead of writing it down all the time,” freshman Joanna Regalbuto said.
Fellow classmate Gavin Henwood agrees. “A lab like this is more interesting because you can get into it easier when you are dissecting the owl pellets.”
Gavin’s lab partner Nick DeCandis said once he got over the mental struggle of thinking about what he was picking apart that he really liked the lab.
“It was like putting together a dinosaur set,” Nick explained. “I thought it was surprising that once we started pulling the bones out that we seemed to find them in the order of what the owl had eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I had thought the bones would be more scattered in the pellets.”
The main challenge the students said they faced from the lab was not breaking the bones when pulling apart the pellets to find them.
“Everything was very compacted inside the pellets,” Carleigh Galliford explained. “You had to be gentle.”
Fellow student Gabby Velez explained how she took on the challenge of handling the delicate animal bones.
“We used tweezers to take the different bones out and to get the fur and other hair off of them.”
Freshman Sarah McAndrew thought the best part of the lab was learning about all of the animal bones.
“It was interesting to see what all of the different bones look like,” she said.
Nebzydoski is pleased that his students did well accepting the challenge of dissecting the not physically appealing pellets for the greater benefit of furthering their knowledge of ecology.
“I think the students appreciate getting to do hands on work that is a change of pace from some of their other studies.”