8 reasons why owl pellets are awesome for studying food chains and the environment

Owl pellet dissection

Elementary / Middle School / High School

If you want to teach food chains, then here’s an idea worth considering: What if you could get an “inside” glimpse into an animal’s predatory mealtime habits? Problem is, when a predator consumes its prey, digestive enzymes in the predator’s stomach typically make such an exploration difficult or impossible.

Not so with the owl. The owl vomits pellets that contain all the evidence of its last meal that can be used to identify its prey.

Here are 8 more reasons why owl pellets are awesome for teaching food chains:

  1. The bones from the prey can be mounted on paper to note characteristics about how the prey are anatomically similar and different.
  2. Let’s be honest. Sometimes it’s hard to get your kids to settle down. Owl pellet dissection is a great activity before a vacation or holiday to keep students engaged (and quiet in their seats!).
  3. All grade levels will love to dig through the puke. No doubt you’ll find some students are squeamish, but they’ll still find it hard to look away!
  4. Using examples of the prey they find, your students can determine how much energy is conserved and lost from one hierarchy to another in a food pyramid.
  5. Your students can model biomagnification by “dosing” some of the prey with simulated toxins. They can then determine how owls are affected as they eat different organisms.
  6. Students can determine the prevalence of disease by “infecting” some of the pellets with a colored toothpick or food color to indicate disease. They can then determine the percentage of infected organisms compared to the total population.
  7. You can do chemical and biological tests to see which processes break down the owl pellets, (e.g., detrivores or pollution). 
  8. Ward’s owl pellets are heat-treated and hand-tested to ensure sterility, making them safe for use in your classroom and lab.

If you’re looking for an introductory owl pellets lab, then here’s your best bet (with teacher’s strategies included). You could also check out our Deluxe Owl Pellet Kit that includes sorting charts to identify the skeletons in the pellets.

Owl pellet dissection is a unique way to teach food chains and demonstrate predator-prey relationships. It’s just the hands-on activity your students need to grasp these essential concepts. Have fun exploring!

As always, if you have any questions about owl pellets or anything else, just ask the Ward’s Science Plus Us team at sciencehelp@vwr.com. Our in-house scientists and technicians are ready to answer even the toughest inquiries.

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