Activity

Deer skeleton

Summary
Assemble a deer skeleton from the bones. Use to discuss how skeletons vary and biodiversity. Use to discuss life and death of living things and food webs.
Science content
Biology: Features, Adaptations of Living Things (K, 1, 3, 7)
Biology: Classification of Living Things, Biodiversity (1, 3)
Biology: Food Webs, Ecosystems, Biomes (3, 4)
Biology: Sensing, Organ Systems (4, 5, 6)
Materials
  • deer skeleton
  • sheet to build skeleton on (and mark boundary for students)
  • printout of skeleton assembled (for teacher use)
Procedure

Hand out a bone to each student and ask them to walk around and find others with similar bones.
Groupings for younger students: vertebrae, ribs, long leg bones.
Groupings for older students:
shoulder blades (2) humerus (2) fused ulna/radius (2)
optional: front toe (metatarsal) bones (2)
pelvis (1) femur (2) fused tibia/fibula (1)
optional: back toe (metatarsal) bone (1) small ankle bones (2)
back (lumbar) vertebrae (4) and tail bone (fused sacral vertebrae) (1)
chest (thoracic) vertebrae (3 or more) and associated ribs (6 or more)
neck (vertical) vertebrae (6)

Students circle around a sheet to assemble the deer skeleton together, students adding their bones when asked. Older students can direct the assembly themselves, optionally using an image.
Students do not step on the sheet unless told to.

Start with the skull, then cervical vertebrae to continue down spine. Then add shoulder blades, front legs. Last add pelvis, back leg (part of one bag leg missing).

Discuss who might have taken the leg away (bobcat, coyote, fox, bald eagle) and imagine the scenario of a scavenger finding this big meal!
Find the gnaw marks on a bone where likely a rodent chewed. Likely shrew, mouse, vole or rat.
Find the missing tooth, and the ones that have overgrown on the other side without being worn away.
Discuss what happened to the skeleton once most of the meat had been eaten by other animals after it died - the decomposers and bacteria that cleaned the bones.

If the students get wiggly sitting so long, take the skeleton apart bone by bone, asking students to find the equivalent bone in their bodies. They can stand up for much of this, wiggling each part of their bodies in turn.
Other discussions follow.

The skeleton is probably a white tailed deer, the most common deer in Virginia.
A few white tailed deer facts, from this link: http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/white-tailed_deer.htm
White tailed deer is a herbivore, eating green plants in the Summer; acorns, fruits and nuts in the Fall; and twigs in the Winter. They also eat fungi when they can find it.
They have few predators. Most commonly humans, sometimes fox and bald eagle.
They can run up to 60 km per hour. They are good swimmers. Their leap can be 2.5m high and 9m long.

The skeleton can be used for a comparative anatomy study, as in the skeletal system lesson plan.
Image comparing horse (similar to deer) and human skeletons, showing the same bones in each: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/64/b8/f4/64b8f401376e3cf8eb012c9de816b3c…
Image comparing human and dog skeletons, in each others' poses: https://dogsmind.gr/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/dog-human.jpg
Image comparing human with tiger, frog and pelican skeletons: http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/thezone/animals/life/images/skeleton.gif

Grades taught
Gr K
Gr 1
Gr 2
Gr 3
Gr 4
Gr 5
Gr 6
Teaching site
Carnarvon Elementary
Fraser Elementary
Gordon Elementary
ingridscience afterschool
Selkirk Elementary
Shaughnessy Elementary