Playing with Pellets

June 18, 2012 at 12:07 pm (Uncategorized)


On Friday, I spent the evening at the last Dozin’ with the Dino’s event for the year at the Field Museum.  This is where kids and families/groups come to stay overnight, after spending hours at various scientific-filled tables interacting with staff and volunteers.  I worked the owl pellet table, which I’ve only done once before – and despite my background there, it’s one of my favorites.

They really are fun to dissect, I promise!

For those that don’t know, owl pellets are basically like owl hairballs.  When an owl eats its prey, the acid in its stomach isn’t strong enough to break down the bones, fur and feathers of said prey, so that all winds up in its gizzard.  Once the gizzard is full (roughly every 10 hours or so), the owl basically hacks up this hard little ball that contains the bones and fur of any animal it recently ingested.  Apparently there’s a company that specializes in procuring, sanitizing and pasteurizing owl pellets and selling them to places like The Field Museum or various schools/camps (talk about an…interesting…job).  Many kids who came to the table had been exposed to them in school but sadly, that was something my childhood lacked.  Good thing I was able to make up for it in adulthood, because despite how gross they may sound, these things are actually way cool.

The purpose of our workshop was to dissect the pellets to see what the owls had been eating.  You can find all sorts of bones in these things (not to mention the mass amounts of fur) and intact skulls are particularly prized finds.  We had a little cheat sheet that had the bones of various animals on a diagram so we could sort of tell what animal our findings came from but mostly it was just cool to dissect.  One little girl said it was gross, to which I replied that science wasn’t always clean, and she ended up thinking it was the coolest station we offered by the end of her session.  One kid even found a skull that was sort of fused with another skull, as though it was a Siamese twin mouse or something like that.  Since we gave all the kids Ziploc baggies to take their findings home in, I can only imagine that skull is now creepily staring at that little boy from somewhere within his room.

Creepy or not, it was a fun way to end another Dozin’ season!

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