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U of M Grossology camp takes on the “yucky” parts of nature

Photo credit: Jared Earle via Flickr

What do owl pellets, dead animals, poop and parasites all have in common?

Aside from a serious “yuck” factor, each is on the curriculum for “Grossology” campers at the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center this summer.

What started off as an observation that kids really like to learn about raptor poop has turned into a week-long camp for kids curious about raptors, nature and honestly, anything gross.

Using birds of prey as the focus, the Raptor Center and College of Veterinary Medicine educators are joining Richardson Nature Center naturalists for the third year this August to help teach kids what is so cool about being gross.

Throughout the month, campers will meet live raptors, spend time in their native habitats to observe behaviors and mimic their hunting behaviors with a predator/prey game.

When they aren’t at the nature center, the children will head to the Raptor Center for exposure to some of the veterinary techniques used to help injured birds and get hands-on training in animal training. University of Minnesota veterinary technicians will teach kids about internal and external parasites and the role scavenger animals play in the ecosystem.

If this sounds more like science than it does gross, don’t be fooled. Campers will be dissecting owl pellets, learning about owl mutes (you guessed it, owl poop) and figuring out the reason why turkey vultures defecate on their own feet.

Every day, campers will watch a raptor feed and even dissect the food animals to be fed to raptors. They will also observe flies laying eggs on dead animals and follow the life cycle of maggots.

The ultimate goal is for campers to get an in-depth experience with professional veterinary and natural sciences staff, sparking a fascination for biological processes to better understand the environment.

By spending a week with environmental education and conservation specialists, campers will be guided through both the gross and the really cool, all while gaining an understanding around the importance of it all.


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