Sunday, July 4, 2010

Skulls and Furs

We just finished a training by Jay Barber on Skulls and Furs.  This focuses on teaching how to use these materials to show kids and adults in how mammals live, their habitats and eating strategies.  Our goal is to develop a team of Master Naturalist teachers that can take these lessons out to schools and the community.
Furs give people a way of relating to mammals tactically,  feeling and observing a pelt while learning the life cycle of a wide variety of Missouri mammals.  In addition to identifying pelts and the habits of their prior owners, Jay had some fur jackets and mink stoles as examples of how pelts have been used by women in our society in recent years. 
The Wild Mammals of Missouri from University of Missouri Press has extensive information about  skulls, jaws and other bony structures of mammals.  (See picture)  While quite detailed, it has taken me a lot of time to try to identify an individual skeleton.
The Skulls portion  gave us the opportunity to quickly categorize Missouri mammals by their jaw and skull structures.  The shape and placement of teeth can reveal what an animal eats and how it hunts.  Long prominent canine teeth suggests a carnivore while flattened human-like molars are typical of a herbivore.  There are many more features that can separate individual species.

The prominence of bony structures on top of the skull suggests the presence of powerful the jaws capable of crushing a prey rather than carefully chewing vegetation.  Auditory and nasal structures suggest the importance of hearing and smell in individual species.

Doris presented a lesson plan and lots of practical advice on how to structure the presentations to various grade levels.  For instance, 5th grade students can be taught the specialized adaptations of individual species.  On the other hand, first and second grade students (and some of us senior Master Naturalists) have limited attention spans and require short and simple lessons.
Plan to attend Jay's trainings on Birds (July 13) and Amphibians and Reptiles (July 21).

The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture site has a good demonstration of the difference between carnivore and herbivore jaws. has a pictorial guide to skulls.
There is a Skull Key pdf paper at

Mammals Teaching Group 
Doris Ewing will serve as coordinator for scheduling.  The initial group includes Ann Morris, Kristin Riggs, Bob & Barbara Kipfer, Larry Maggard, Caryn Fox, Connie Johnson, Charlie Stewart, Merrill Dubach,  Charley Burwick, Vicki Sears, Rose Atchley, Sherryl Walker, and Sue Jeffery.


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