If you are easily grossed out by upclose photos of reptile entrails, go to the next post. If you have kids that are enthralled by biology and the inner workings of God's amazing creatures, or if you have some future doctors in your house, you may want to check out our experience with a turtle dissection this week!
We ordered three different specimens from Home Science Tools to get us through the first semester of our school year: some clams, some starfish, and one turtle to share. I have to give kudos to HST for the quality of their specimens. They are shipped well, sealed with care and are carefully prepared for you. What I mean is this: I searched frantically online for instructions on how to dissect a turtle. I could have ordered their guide at the same time I ordered the little critters, but I thought for sure I'd be able to find some simple instructions for free on the internet. There is actually very little out there on the web. There is this website that is quite good with full-color photographs of the process, but nothing that actually says, "Cut here, now remove this." I started to panic when I saw some comments like, "you'll need a good saw to remove the shell".
Well, I was delighted to open the sealed package and find that 1.) it didn't smell weird and 2.) the shell was already seperated on three sides so it was really just attached like a hinge. Almost like opening a book. And finding guts inside.
We were able to locate the pectoral muscles, which needed to be cut away to reveal the organs underneath. We marvelled at how important the pectoral muscles were to allow a turtle to pull its entire body weight around. Then we located the heart, lungs, gall bladder, liver and pancreas. We were able to dissect a shark a few weeks ago, so we compared the size of a shark's huge liver to that of a small turtle.
Poor little guy had us poking around his mouth to see his arrow shaped tongue. Since turtles have no teeth, its pointed "beak" and sharp tongue help it eat. We noticed the nostrils on top of the beak. These help it breathe above the water without sticking its entire head out.
Did you know that a turtle's intestines are around 24 inches long? There was also alot of grass and chewed up vegetation still in his stomach. Again, pretty gross on my end, but fascinating to the boys.
Home Science Tools not only prepares their specimens well, but preserves them so that their blood vessels are visible (something they inject prior to shipping) and their organs retain more of their natural color, rather than being all white and faded from traditional preservation techniques. They are very reasonably priced. Clams are $2.50, Starfish are $2.40 and Turtles are just over $11.00. The package says they can be stored at room temperature indefinately, but should really be used within a year. The only space I had available in the house was on the floor in the shipping box in our classroom. Because they didn't really smell like anything interesting, my two black labs didn't tear into it. And thank the Lord. I would not have wanted to come home to that scene on my floor.
I was also really impressed with the Dissection Tool kit. A scalpel with 3 interchangeable blades (it's easier to just use a new blade for each dissection than to try to clean the old ones. They are very sharp!), surgical scissors, a few prodding tools, T-pins, a medicine dropper, etc., all housed in a tool box. The reusable tray and silicone mat give you something to lay your specimen on without touching the table.
As I mentioned, the scalpel blades are real. They are not toys. My boys are fine with them, even when sharing a specimen and cutting together. They use surgical gloves and take precautions and have gotten hurt much worse jumping out of trees. However, if you have kids that tend to flail around and forget that they're holding a razor blade--just be careful!
We are studying Marine Biology right now, so that's why we chose these specimens. We'll soon be sailing into Human Anatomy, which the kids can't wait for because this means EYES and BRAINS! Woo-hoo!