Saturday, July 10, 2010

You Chose Owl What?

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Yesterday was the last day of summer school for the wee ones. While I am happy to not be waking up quite so early in the morning to get them out the door to the 8am classes, I know they enjoyed them and are looking forward to what they'll take next year.

Little Miss's kindergarten prep class is complete (although I had a horrible time this morning convincing her she wasn't on her way to kindergarten today), and Mister Man has no more cooking class (I may yet have to post on that one) or science class. Prior to the end of the science class, however, there was a science fair.

Mister Man was excited to have me come to visit his classroom and see the science fair and only told me that it started at 11am three to four times each day the week leading up to it.

When I asked for more information about it, he explained that he'd chosen the owl pellet project. He was to open the owl pellets and build a vole skeleton.

I'll admit right now that I did not have the greatest science education growing up. When I got to college and had my first chemistry class, I had no idea what a pipette was. I only passed that class thanks to a very bright friend of mine who graciously agreed to my lab partner.

Needless to say, I chalked up his explanation to being six and not really getting things and just smiled and nodding. I was thinking - don't ask me why - that his chosen project was to open up some plastic owl-shaped container with a plastic skeleton puzzle in maybe twenty pieces. And note the word chosen - yes, he chose this project.

Ohhhh how my eyes were opened. Allow Mister Man to explain his science project.

You see, owls eat their prey - voles, mice, etc. They digest everything they can, which leaves fur and skeletons. These are compacted together in the owl's stomach in to - wait for it - pellets, which they then vomit up.

Uhhhh. Yep. My son's science fair project is owl vomit.

So apparently these little gems are all over forest floors, if you know where to look. Oddly, I've never seen them before. The science supply stores, however, sell them - lucky us.

You open up a pellet, which is fortunately wrapped in lovely tin foil, whether to protect the owl pellet or people, I'm not actually sure. You then start digging through the compacted fur - which is rather dust-like - to find the bones encased within.

There's also a nifty little digging stick tool to help you get the pellet started and ensure you aren't missing any pieces of the skeleton.

Once you have the bones removed from the bits of fur, you simply arrange them on the handily provided piece of paper that shows where the bones are in the various animals and "build" your skeleton from there.

Interestingly, the skull and jawbones appear to have been the easiest to find, and they were also Mister Man's favorite. When he asked to bring these home, I unfortunately had to decline.

No, my child couldn't have the project on planets and space. He wasn't interested in the density of various liquids. He didn't want to build circuits or create pressure with Alka-Seltzer to pop open small containers. No, he chose to build skeletons from owl vomit.

Call me a wimp, but there are some things about science I was just fine not knowing. And yes, he has announced that he wants to take this class again next year.


Tara R. July 10, 2010 at 10:57 PM  

Both of my kids dissected owl pellets in middle school. Yeah, it's kinda gross, but at least it's a solid and not soupy.

Mrs4444 July 10, 2010 at 11:06 PM  

This is awesome, and yes, our 8th graders dissect owl pellets, too. We have them in our yard now and then. Would you like me to mail them to you when I find them?

anymommy July 10, 2010 at 11:29 PM  

That's pretty dang cool.

Pat July 11, 2010 at 7:29 PM  

Sounds like Mr. Man is a biologist or zoologist in the making. I'd never heard of owl vomit sounds disgusting, but at least it's dry, not wet!! And how handy that it comes in pellets. :D

Karen July 11, 2010 at 9:08 PM  

Okay, I'm a farm girl with a stomach of steel, but that's kinda gross. I'm glad he's your kid and not mine.

I do, however, find it fascinating.

Michelle July 11, 2010 at 9:15 PM  

Tara - Amen to being solid. It's actually really dusty, which is weird. But ohhhh what an ummm unusual project.

Mrs4444 - Really? My husband used to have a job where he had to restock the kits (from purchased owl pellet supplies) growing up, but I'd never heard of them before. And NO, keep your owl pellets for your 8th graders!

Stacey - Ummm yes. Cool. Actually, I'm really proud of him for all he learned and the hard work he did and how enthusiastic he was, but these are the parts of science that made me not a fan ;)

Pat - He's something in the making. He loves all the figuring out and exploration involved. And pellets doesn't really do it justice. Think 4"x2" hairball.

Karen - Of all people I'd think you would be the most comfortable with this one. Your boys haven't done it or gotten into it? And yeah... it is pretty cool. I just don't want to touch it :)

Alexis AKA MOM July 11, 2010 at 11:16 PM  

Ok I'm with you, but both boys would be so into this too.

VERY cool, next year should be fun too!

Karen and Gerard July 12, 2010 at 4:33 AM  

What an interesting science project! I think he did great!

septembermom July 12, 2010 at 7:55 AM  

My fourth grader did that experiment this year. Glad that Mister Man had fun with it.

As Cape Cod Turns July 15, 2010 at 6:44 AM  

He is so cute and owl pellets are really fun to dissect (I have to admit!).

Michelle July 16, 2010 at 12:35 AM  

Alexis - Yeah, I think it might be a bit of a boy thing? He thought it was great, and really that's all that matters!

Karen & Gerard - I know. I was shocked that they were doing such impressive stuff with kids who just finished K-2. I can only imagine what middle school holds :)

Kelly - Lucky you. I'm hoping for your sake that he did it at school and not at home :)

Sue - Hmmm maybe I should have sent him your way. Dumb question, but do they have them up your way?

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