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Lesson 4 - Skulls

Students observe a variety of skulls from animals native to the Sandia Mountains.

Lesson 4 Video Transcript

Hey, boys and girls. We're back here at the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center. You can see that I have a whole bunch of skulls next to me. Well, obviously, they're from animals, right? But there's another word that we use when we talk about animals in ecosystems.

Has to do because they eat to get their energy. Remember what that is? Starts with a C. Con...consumers. So, here we have a bunch of consumer evidence. We can learn a lot by looking at the skull of consumers. How they get their energy. Remember, all animals, consumers and we can say consumers are spiders as well and fish and everything else that eats, they get their energy in different ways.

Now, they're all eating but they're getting their food different from one another. So, what we're going to be doing is looking at the details of these skulls to figure out what these animals are getting their energy from or in other words, what is their food? So, we're going to look at a whole bunch of them right now and what I'd like you to do is look at the details of those skulls. Try to think about what makes them different from one another or similar to each other as we look at them.

So, we saw a lot of skulls. They looked very different from one another but some of them also looked very similar. Let's start off with this one. It's got a long face, doesn't it? Long nose right here. What I would like to do is talk about the teeth. The teeth of an animal, a consumer, is its adaptation for being able to chew or catch its food. I want to focus on that word for a second, adaptation.

To adapt to something means to get used to doing something, right? An adaptation for an animal is something about its body shape or its behavior, how it acts that helps it survive. In a certain way. This animal's adaptation that we're going to talk about, like I said, are the teeth. So, when we look at the teeth here, we can see that they're flattish, not totally flat, there are bumps on it, ridges, but it still needs that to help it chew its food but they're mostly flat. Is this animal going to be catching another animal? Is this animal a predator?

Do you think? Remember, It's not just these teeth right here that are important for its survival. It's the kind of teeth that are up in the front. So does the animal look like it's going to catch its prey? I don't think so because it would need some good size pointy teeth upfront. These teeth back here help it chew a certain type of food. What kind of food is that? That's right. Plant stuff, leaves, things like that.

That's what these molars, these types of teeth are for. Our next animal is right here, our next consumer. You could see right away this animal lives a very different life from the one that we just looked at. How does it get its food? You're right, it catches its food. So is this predator or prey? Predator because it's a hunter.

Now these sharp teeth right here, these canines, are what it uses to catch its food, but then after catches, it has to do something. It has to eat, right? So, chew its food. These teeth back here. These are not necessarily for the catching, the stabbing part but for the chewing part and the cutting of that meat as it's chewing. We can see that they are all fairly pointy and then they just stop right back here, okay?

Sharp catching tooth, pointy chewing teeth back here. This guy right here. It's a big skull, isn't it? This has some big sharp teeth on it just like the last one that we looked at. See those big sharp teeth on that one? Big sharp teeth on this one. There's a difference though. Remember, this one had sharp teeth going all the way to the back. This one. Does it have sharp teeth going all the way to the back? No. There's some points on them but they are mostly flat. That's right. What does that mean about what this animal eats?

Obviously, it's going to catch prey sometimes, right? That's what these big sharp canine teeth are for. But it's also going to be eating...yeah, things from plants. Maybe nuts, like acorns or something like that. So this animal eats both types of food. Meat and plants. Now I'm going to hold up each of these three skulls again and I want you to think about what it is, how we label those three different types of animals based on their food. How they catch their food, how they get their food, and how they chew their food.

So if you remember the first one that we looked at had these flat teeth. Those three names of animals, how they eat, are omnivore, carnivore, herbivore. Omnivore, carnivore, herbivore. Which one is this? I'll tell you in a second but I want you to answer right now.

This guy, all sharp teeth. What is that? And our last one has both kinds, the sharp teeth and the flat teeth. If you said omnivore for this one, you got it. Has both kinds of teeth, eats all kinds of food. Now, this guy, all sharp teeth. You're right. Carnivore. That one's easy and our last one which was our first one earlier. All flat teeth, no sharp teeth at all. It eats plants. Yeah, you're right, herbivore. So, let's take a look at some of the teeth up close with this one. When you look at these teeth, we can determine what this animal is.

A carnivore, an herbivore, or an omnivore. What do you think? Now, when we first look at it, you think probably carnivore because we have these big sharp teeth right here. We have all these sharp teeth along here but then, when we get to the very back, there's these tiny little flatish not completely flat but flattish teeth back here. What is that tell us then? You're right, it's an omnivore. It's got sharp and flat.

Catches prey and it eats plant stuff. Maybe berries, cactus fruit, and things like that. Let's look closer at these back pointy teeth. These back pointy teeth, they're actually kind of cool. They're not just these big, long, catching, stabbing teeth. If we look at it closely, we can see they overlap. They act kind of like scissors. See how the scissors overlap one another? It's called shearing. What do you think this animal does with those teeth back there in that manner? It shears its food, the meat, it cuts the meat. These teeth pass by each other like scissors.

Now let's go up front. These tiny little teeth on the bottom and the top. You can feel with your tongue your own tiny front teeth like those, they're tiny, they're flat. Do you think that these are hunting teeth? Not so much. These sharp pointy teeth, those are hunting teeth. What are these use, what are these used for? Well animals like this one, it doesn't have arms does it? Has legs. So what is it going to use to pick things up? That's right it's going to use its mouth. If this is a mother and it's going to pick up its babies, does it want to use these sharp stabbing teeth? Of course not. It's going to use these little teeth.

These little teeth are called incisors. These little teeth are kind of like these things. Tongs used to pick things up without damaging so that she can gently pick up her babies without hurting them. Now, say this animal is walking along a trail and it hits a cactus with its paw. It gets a spine. Is it going to use these sharp teeth to pull out the spine?

Nope. These little incisors just like tweezers can grab a cactus spine, or maybe a flea, and pull it off. So, these have special uses too. Almost all mammals have those incisors there for doing things just like that, and grabbing. How about this one? This little guy has incisors. They're very different from the last one that we looked at. It has a bunch of flat teeth back here. So, it's an herbivore.

But it has these weird, long incisors up front. I think you probably have an idea of what group of animals or what animal this is besides herbivore. Uh these long incisors, they never stop growing. It relies on them rubbing against one another when it's chewing, on wearing them down just a little bit so they don't get too long. As they wear down, they also get sharp. They rub against each other and get sharp. Why do you think it has those? Well, it's an adaptation that it has to help it chew up and cut pieces of plant that are hard to.

Have you ever tried biting string or something like that with your front teeth? Sometimes, it's kind of hard. We have to really work at it. If those front teeth of ours, our incisors, were sharp, then, we could do it pretty quickly. That's what this guy does. It uses its sharp front incisors to cut the fibrous pieces of plant material that it's going to eat. Let's look at one more adaptation before I move on. I'm going to use these two. Just the top halves. One of these is a predator and one of these is a prey. One of these is carnivore and one of them is an herbivore. I bet you can figure it out real quick. Predator. It means it's a carnivore.

This is the prey which--and it doesn't have to be, but this one is an herbivore. Besides the teeth, these animals have some, have another adaptation to help them deal with their surroundings or their target. What do you think I mean by the target? That's right, the prey. This guy is going to pick a target. An animal out there that it wants to hunt. This one needs to always be on the lookout for things that are going to hunt it, for things that are stalking it, like that guy down there. The eye placements help these animals do the things that I just described. This animal's adaptation, with its eyes to help detect motion is the placement of the eyes. So I'm going to hold this like this, and my fingers are going to point in the direction the eyes go.

They don't go this way like ours. They go this way. That means this animal doesn't just see this way. It can also see like this. Wouldn't that be useful, to be able to detect something moving back here? I can't see it, but this animal sure could see that. And then it has the eye on the other side too. This animal's eyes do not face that way. They face like ours. Straight forward. This animal can focus very clearly on its prey. Its forward facing eyes can help them tell how far away things are, what the depth--it has the something called depth perception so it can tell how far away something is.

Eye placement on an animal is also an adaptation to help it survive. You may have noticed, I never once said the name of each of these animals that we just saw the teeth of. I'm going to show you some pictures from our trail cameras that have both the skull and the real animal in them. That way, you can tell what each of the animals we saw is.

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We have looked at a whole bunch of teeth and eye placement adaptations to help those animals survive. The activity that I'd like you to do would require you to go outside with your adult's permission. Now, if you can't find things outside, you can always look around in your house. In this case, you'll be going to your kitchen if you need to. What you're going to do is take some paper with you. You're going to look for food that an animal, a wild animal, might eat outside.

So, if you find some grass, on your paper, you're going to write down grass. That animal is going to need a certain type of teeth to be able to eat that grass. It's not going to be needing these sharp predator teeth. It'll be needing these flat plant-eating teeth. So, you'll write down the plant and then you'll draw the kind of tooth that is needed to be able to get or eat that. Um so, if you find grass, good. What else? What can we find outside? Leaves, maybe lizards, any other kind of animal would count.

If you can't find any animals, that's when the kitchen part comes in because if you have some meat, I want you to think about what the animal was before it became your, your food meat and figure out what kind of teeth it is that the animal would need to catch it. Here's another activity that I'd like you to do. Of course, you can do this when outside if you wanted to. You can do it inside too. What you're going to be doing is writing a creative story about one or two of these animals getting their food.

So, using the ad--the adaptations that we've talked about, their teeth and their eyes, um write a story with some good details about how that animal is getting the food. Um it could be the animal's day leading up to the animal getting their food. It could be just those few minutes during the time the animal is getting that food. Um remember, talk about the teeth, talk about the eyes.

If you know some other adaptations that this particular animal has that helps it through its day and survive its, during its lifetime. you can throw those details in there as well. So, remember, teeth, eyes, the food it's getting, how it's getting food and maybe any other kind of adaptations you're aware of for that animal and put it all together in a nice creative story.