Students explore the food web by dissecting owl pellets


Raquel Korff

Seventh graders Julia Effenberger and Ryan Rose look in surprise at their findings after breaking into their pellet. Before starting their dissections, students hypothesized what types of bones they would find.

Seventh grade students participated in an end of the year lab, in which they dissected owl pellets with their classmates.

“The purpose of this dissection is to help students understand a food web and an energy pyramid. By looking for things that an organism has eaten, we can determine each organism’s energy level,” Kate De Paralta, seventh grade strings major, said.

Students worked in pairs and dissected the pellet using their given tools. The owl pellet consisted of fur, bones, teeth, and feathers that the owl could not digest, and then later spit up into a compact pellet. The pellets were heat sterilized to kill bacteria and were collected from Barn Owls.

“This dissection was unique because   it involved owl pellets, which were not once living things. All of our other dissections involved once live organisms,” De Paralta said.

Students were given a key to help identify the certain characteristics of the skulls and bones of the animals, and then answered questions and created their own food webs on their worksheet.

“I think the hardest part of the dissection was trying to find out which animal the owl ate because some of the skulls looked similar to one another, so it was hard to identify,” Sammy Peitz, seventh grade theater major, said.

This dissection proved to be a hands-on learning activity for students that pertained to what they learned in class.

Mary Carson, science teacher said, “Dissecting an owl pellet is a good way to learn about the eating habits of an owl, the environment in which they live, and the complex nature of the food web they are a part of.”