biomedicalephemera: Not exactly history, but …


Not exactly history, but something fun (trust me!) from a submission:

Compared to most carnivorous birds, an owl does not use its beak and talons to tear its prey into bite-size pieces. Rather, an owl swallows its prey whole. Then in its digestive tract’s uppermost chamber, high concentrations of acid and enzymes break down the muscle and fat into a digestible liquid. Bones and fur resist this process, so hours later the owl regurgitates the leftovers as a compressed pellet. Then it is ready for the next night’s hunt.

By dissecting owl pellets, grade school students can get a lesson in osteology. Ecologists can ascertain seasonal variations in owl diets, which may also include bats and small birds. It is the molecular biologists, however, who are currently having a field day. For one thing, owls can collect study specimens without causing any collateral kill that human trapping might entail; and owls hunt with impunity even in protected areas. The biologists extract the DNA from the mandibles of these small, man-avoiding, hard to trap, pelletized animals and use it to study population genetics, both across species and over time. Owls and regurgitated bones are thereby helping answer questions about habitat maintenance, climate change, and genetic diversity. Whoo knew?  

Originally posted at

I grew up on owl pellets and I am profoundly jealous of people with barn owls who are up to their necks in them. I have to mail order them!