Nixa first graders delight in dissecting regurgitated owl pellets to learn about nature

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 6:14 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - So are you smarter than a first grader?

Not if you don’t know what owl pellets are.

First grade students at Mathews Elementary School in Nixa got their first chance at dissection on Friday and it wasn’t a frog, earthworm or was those pellets.

“I had a couple of students, as soon as we unwrapped the pellets, say ‘It looks like poo Ms. Thrower!’” said first grade teacher Lauren Thrower.

It’s not that.

Think of it as kind of a cat hairball for owls, except owls regurgitate the pellets to rid themselves of the food materials they can’t digest.

“It’s kind of like owl barf,” explained first grader Grace Ellis.

“So when an owl eats its prey whether it’s a small rodent or another small animal, they can’t digest the fur and bones,” Thrower said.

“They swallow their prey whole and it goes to its gizzard, and it spits it back up,” said first grader Alexis Bergin.

“And they regurgitate it back up into a pellet,” added first grader August Whitworth.

“It’s so amazing because a lot of the kids have never seen bones before,” Thrower said. “And being able to get hands-on and explore nature that way is just so amazing. Just seeing the wonder in their eyes is the greatest gift.”

From the students reaction you’d think they’d discovered a hidden treasure. But instead of yelling that they’d found gold they were yelling things like, ‘It looks like a raw egg!’ or ‘This is a tailbone!’

“You need some gloves and some toothpicks to get the bones,” first grader Rhys Garoutte said with pride in pointing out how the students prepared themselves for the project. “And when you match the right bone, you did it!”

He was referring to a piece of paper every student got with diagrams showing the different kinds of bones the students might find in the pellet such as jawbones, vertebrae, ribs and shoulder blades. As the students removed the bones from the pellets, they would sit them on the paper to match the corresponding diagram as part of their assignment.

So yes, there was plenty to learn from those little pellets.

“I learned what rodents are,” Grace said.

And for a group whose attention spans are usually short, this project definitely kept their attention.

“They’re first graders,” Thrower said. “Anything that’s gross or just totally crazy they’re going to love.”

“When I first saw it, it was disgusting,” Alexis said. “It had hair and bones smushed into it. But once you got used to it, it was really cool.”

Thrower said with Halloween on the horizon there are more animals to study that are related to that holiday.

“We’ll be doing bats one week and spiders the next,” she said. “But owl pellets are an all time favorite. I got to do it when I was in second grade and it’s something I still remember to this day.”

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