Background

  • PK to 3rd grade

Students at this level would have little knowledge about our digestive system.  At this point, it would be best to say that owls swallow their food whole and then throw it up.  By dissecting the pellets, and looking at the charts of the skeletons of rats or other animals an owl might eat, students can put together what an owl may have eaten.  They can then expand on the concept of a food chain.

  • 4th to 6th grade

Students at this level would understand the food chain more in detail.  They could talk about consumers and predators as well as whether owls are carnivores, omnivores, or herbivores and what the difference is between them.  Owls are carnivores meaning they eat meat.  Meat is a high energy food source which gives owls the energy they need to survive. Students at this level could also discuss the differences between predators and prey and nocturnal and diurnal.

  • Middle School

Students at this level might be more interested in why owls form pellets.  At this level, discussing what makes food digestible is a good place to start.  Comparing what a human can eat can make this topic easier to understand.  For example, if we could only swallow food whole, would we be able to swallow skeletons? Making this comparison makes the project more relatable and allows the students to better grasp why owls form pellets. Owls don’t have teeth that would be useful for grinding the bones of its prey and because of this, the skeletons can’t be passed through the digestive tract. Also at this age, students can really master the meaning of a pellet and can give a basic schematic of how an owl eats.

  • College

At this level, we can take the schematic and dive into why pellets form at an enzymatic level. At the college level, they should understand that enzymes break down the body tissues in the prey that the owl ate and because the enzymes cant break down bones, beaks, claws, etc. then these get left behind and eventually get “gagged” back out in the form of a pellet.  Students at this level can also look at bigger picture ideas of the threat if say, there was a decrease in the amount of prey available to a predator like the owl.  What would happen regionally, nationally, etc. if there were a surplus of prey? A shortage?