Wilson Elementary and Alpena FWCO take
a “Bite” out of Mammal Classification
BY JOSEPH GERBYSHAK, ALPENA FWCO
mammal skull into the correct feeding group as part of the Connecting People With
Nature (CPWN) initiative. Credit: USFWS
As part of the Connecting People with Nature (CPWN) initiative, staff from the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) has been teaching students at Wilson Elementary School for the past four years about environmental topics that meet their current science curriculum. This school year Alpena FWCO’s staff adopted a new cohort of third grade students. Alpena FWCO staff will be teaching these students lessons once a month via hands-on, classroom activities and field trips until they reach the fifth grade. Alpena FWCO’s involvement at Wilson Elementary School provides a change of pace for the students, while providing unique insight from conservation professionals.
Alpena FWCO biologist Joseph Gerbyshak presented a lesson about the classification of mammals into feeding groups based on the animal’s dentition. Gerbyshak used mammal skulls as visual aids to demonstrate the different types of teeth of carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores. The students learned to easily identify carnivores by their characteristic elongated canines and sharp carnassial teeth. The distinctive long incisors and flat molars were used by the students to distinguish herbivores. The students quickly learned that omnivorous animals have teeth of both carnivores and herbivores.
Once the students had learned these basic concepts, they were given skulls of unknown species of animal and tasked with classifying it based on the skull’s dentition. After the students classified the animal into the correct feeding group, they tried to determine the correct species of animal from a list. Once they accomplished this task, they were asked to speculate what the animal normally eats in the wild. This generated some interesting and creative responses. The students enjoyed seeing the various mammal skulls up close and quickly learned how much care was needed when handling these delicate specimens.