Leg dissection (chicken)

Dissect a fresh chicken thigh to find the muscles, tendons and joints.
Science content
Biology: Features, Adaptations of Living Things (K, 1, 3, 7)
Biology: Sensing, Organ Systems (4, 5, 6)
Lessons activity is in
  • fresh whole chicken leg (thigh and drumstick)
  • chopping board or plate
  • very sharp knife or blade
  • soap and water for clean up
  • optional: disposable gloves for handling the chicken

Either use as a demonstration, with discussion as each part of a leg is found.
Or partially dissect a leg before hand (remove skin and expose some tendons) for students to discover the parts.

Step by step dissection of the leg and the function of the parts revealed:

1. Find the muscles
If there is skin, peel it off the chicken leg. The pink meat under the skin is muscle.
Find the lower leg (drum stick) and upper leg (thigh), and the knee between them. Also find the ankle at the end of the drumstick (the foot has been cut off).
The chicken can contract (shorten) one set of thigh muscles to bend it's leg at the knee, and muscles on the other side of the thigh to straighten it. The same happens in our leg - muscles on the front and back of our thigh respectively straighten and bend our leg.

2. Find the tendons and the muscles they are attached to
(The tendons attach the muscles to the bone, so that when the muscle contracts it pulls on the bone and makes the leg move.)
Cut the chicken leg down to the bone around the ankle. This should reveal the strong, white, stringy tendons.
You can feel your own ankle tendons: the large Achilles tendon at the back, and many smaller ones in front (easier to find if you raise your foot).
On the chicken leg, follow the tendons up to a muscle and carefully separate the muscle. This will require carefully slicing through a thin membrane. The several muscles of the lower leg can be separated out. Each muscle can work independently and with others so the chicken can move its lower leg in different ways.

3. Find the leg joints
Cut through the muscles over the knee to reveal the two bones joining at the knee. You might also find the connective tissue protecting the bones and preventing them from rubbing directly against each other, and the ligaments holding the bones together. Bend the chicken leg at the knee and watch how the bones move past each other - this is a hinge joint. Your knee bones work in a similar way.
Cut through the muscles at the hip joint at the top of the thigh, to find the hip joint where the upper leg meets the leg (a ball and socket joint).

4. Find the bones
Just like us, the lower leg of a chicken has a large bone (the tibia), and a small fibula. In humans the fibula runs the length of the lower leg, but in a chicken it is a tiny spiky bone, extending only part way down the leg.
Both chickens and humans have one bone, the femur, in the thigh.

Grades taught
Gr 5