An Ethical Alternative to Animal Dissection in Schools

An Ethical Alternative to Animal Dissection in Schools

When looking back at your school years, you’ve probably traded horror stories about what you had to dissect in science class, everything from frogs to squid to cows’ hearts. The tricksters splashed each other with mysterious liquids, the nature-lovers cried, and the smart kids called in sick. 

Thankfully, there is an alternative for future classes, even if it’s too late for the frog-dissectors of yesterday. It teaches biology, encourages exploration, and is still technically “dissection” although no animals were harmed in acquiring it: owl pellets.

These biological wonders are a bit icky to encounter at first, but hold many secrets about the health of the local ecosystem. An owl has no teeth, so they swallow prey whole then later regurgitate the indigestible parts (fur and bones) in a neatly folded pellet. Scientists use owl pellets to study both the health of local owls and the small rodents & insects they eat. Meanwhile, growing students are introduced to pellets as a way of exploring the process of natural science, making discoveries and observations while collaborating with others.  

We were glad to be a part of a recent Washington Post feature on owl pellet dissection, which included a great insight from Genia Connell, a third grade teacher in Michigan, who routinely uses owl pellet dissection in her classroom:

“When the kids begin dissecting the pellets, they become so engaged and so vested in discovering what ‘their’ owl ate and comparing their findings with classmates,” Connell said. “If you’re that kid who discovers their owl ate three or four different animals in a single pellet, well then you automatically get hero status among the other 8-year-olds, at least for the hour!”

If you or a friend teaches natural science, either at school or at home, consider teaching through owl pellet dissection instead of dissecting animals. Most animal species used in dissection are primarily taken from the wild, while owl pellets are simply picked up from the ground or disused nests. We are glad to provide an ethical alternative to get young students interested in science.

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