Cousin Anna

Anna's Animal Facts: Owls

By Cousin Anna (Age 12)

Cousin Anna

Did You Know? Contrary to what many people think, owls cannot turn their heads a full 360 degrees. They can only turn their heads a little bit more than 180 degrees.

On the last day of our recent overnight trip I made an interesting discovery - an owl pellet!

The owl pellet at the base of the tree.

What is an owl pellet? An owl pellet is the fur (or feathers) and bones of the animal an owl ate. An owl does not eat its prey in pieces; it swallows its prey whole! Owls don’t have a gag reflex. This means that an owl can’t choke when swallowing its prey. When an owl swallows its prey, it digests the meat and the ‘good stuff’, and spits up a ball of the fur, bones, and everything it can’t digest. This ball is called an owl pellet.

The bones in the owl pellet.

Owl pellets can be found at the base of an owl’s frequent perch, and are usually grey in colour. I found one at the base of a pine tree near my tent. It looked like a grey lump with a few bones sticking out of it. I recognized the pellet because I had dissected one before.  I got some tweezers from the first aid kit (we threw them out after) and pulled it apart. In the pellet I found the eye sockets and the top of the skull of a small rodent. I also found the jawbone and some vertebrae. There were foreleg and rear leg bones (I couldn’t tell which was which) and a few other fragments of the skull. It was an interesting find. We emailed the Algonquin Park Wildlife Research Station with pictures of the bones we found in the pellet, and asked what kind of rodent they might be from. The researchers haven’t gotten back to us yet, but we are hoping they will answer soon.

You can get your own owl pellets to dissect from Boreal Northwest.

Anna's Animal Facts: Frogs (by Cousin Anna, Age 12)

Did You Know? You can tell if a frog is male or female by the size of its eardrums.

If a frog’s eardrums are bigger than its eyes, then it’s a male. If the eardrums are the same size or smaller than the frog’s eyes, then it’s a female.  A frog’s eardrums are the round discs just behind its eyes.

Here I'm holding a frog that I caught and named Goliath. You can tell this frog is male because its ear drums are bigger than its eyes.

Here I'm holding a frog that I caught and named Goliath. You can tell this frog is male because its ear drums are bigger than its eyes.

Did you ever wonder what frogs eat? I was surprised to find out that they aren’t vegetarians. Frogs eat insects, snails, spiders, small fish, worms, tadpoles, and believe it or not, other frogs as well. Despite being little carnivorous cannibals, frogs don’t have teeth! They swallow their food whole. Although these little creatures sound fierce, they are pretty low down on the food chain, and are regularly consumed by birds, including Blue Herons, hawks, and egrets, as well as aquatic turtles, snakes, racoons, bears, foxes, fish, and otters. Even some people enjoy them as a delicacy (yuck!).

How do I catch a frog?  I don’t use a net because if you miss the frog you can hurt it with the edge of the net.  Frogs can get tangled up easily in nets, and it probably hurts the frogs when they are rubbing up against the netting.   I prefer to use my hands.  One technique is to come up from behind and grab the frog with my hand.  But when I use this technique the frog often slips away. So, instead, I usually use two hands and cup them on top of the frog, then scoop it up. Be careful not to squeeze or drop the frog. It is not a toy.

After you catch a frog, don’t throw it back into the water. This could hurt the frog or even kill it.  When you want to let your frog go, gently set it down by the water, or submerge your hand and let the frog swim out of your hand.  After touching a frog you should wash your hands.  Frogs can have salmonella on their skin and salmonella can make humans sick.

Becoming an excellent frog catcher takes practice.  They are slippery little guys, so don’t give up if you miss them on your first few tries.  Remember, practice makes perfect.