How To Dissect an Owl Pellet

If you're wanting to get down and dirty with a fun hands-on project, then maybe you should try doing an owl pellet dissection. Performing one is great way for people of all ages to take a different approach to learning biology.

Owl Pellet Dissection

Getting Prepared To Dissect

Basically, what you'll be doing in a dissection is taking apart the contents of an owl pellet and piecing together any bones discovered. If you don't know what an owl pellet is, let me give you a quick explanation - an owl pellet is small ball of indigestible remains (about 1 to 3 inches wide) that an owl regurgitates. Typically, they contain the remains of rodents, including bones and fur.

Now, don't let the word "dissection" turn you away from this activity. Performing an owl pellet dissection isn't nearly as stomach-turning as it may sound. Most owl pellets are sold after they've been dried and sterilized, leaving no smell or moisture in them. But, even if you're dissecting sterilized pellets, you should still wear gloves and pretective goggles.

Here are the things you'll need for a proper owl pellet dissection:

  • Owl pellet(s) - You can either find your own or purchase them online. We recommend buying them, as they will likely already be clean, sterilized and ready for dissection.
  • A pair of latex gloves
  • Protective goggles
  • Tweezers
  • Rodent bone chart (can be found and printed out online)
  • Disposable paper plate
  • Magnifying glass (optional)

Owl Pellet Dissection - Step #1

Once you've acquired all the necessary materials, you're now ready for the fun part. Before handling or touching the owl pellets, you'll need to put on the goggles and gloves. As stated earlier, most owl pellets purchased online are already sterile, but it's better to be safe than sorry when handling any biological material that could harbor dangerous parasites and bacteria.

Owl Pellet Dissection - Step #2

You're now ready to handle the owl pellets. Take a pellet (only dissect one at a time), place it on the paper place, and slowly pick it apart using the tweezers. Be slow and cautious as you dissect the pellet, as it can be easy to break some of the important findings, such as bones, if you're being too rough

As you pull the owl pellet apart, you'll probably notice a lot of fur, bones, claws, and insect shells. Try to separate the contents of the pellet, placing the fur off to one side and the bones to another. Continue doing this until you've taken apart the entire pellet.

Owl Pellet Dissection - Step #3

Using the rodent bone chart, you should try and identify the bones found in your dissected pellet. Look at the bones you've uncovered and match them to the bone chart. Some bones will be obvious, such as the jaw and skull, but others will be more difficult to identify. If you're having difficulty, try looking at the bone under the magnifying glass.

If you have several owl pellets, or if you're in a classroom performing a group dissection, try to come up with a complete skeletal structure of a rodent.

Performing an owl pellet dissection is a fun activity that allows you to learn in a more hands-on manner. Following the steps here will help guide you on the right way to perform a dissection.