Helping a Student in Minnesota

Environmental and biological teaching outreach comes from the most unexpected places. I do not know how a teacher/principal in Minnesota found my blog but he did and this is the outreach opportunity.

Feral hog skull

An email arrived via my blog asking me for skull identification help. The science teacher recounted that he had a student who visited Texas. During a trip to Palo Duro Canyon State Park the student found a skull while hiking. As kids do he started kicking some rocks when he almost kicked the skull. packed it, and took it back home with him. He thought it was cool,. They hauled it all the way home to Minnesota.

With a strong curiosity, he took the skull to his class where both the teacher and student tried to ID the skull. They narrowed it down to an herbivore with a hoof. The top of the skull was flat and that’s about as far as they got with ID. 

After seeing the photos, I knew immediately what the student discovered and did a double confirmation with my friend Ginny. The student kicked out the remains of a feral hog skull. From the looks of the size of the skull, the hog itself was around 100 – 150 pounds. 

Palo Duro Canyon State Park has a huge problem with feral hogs, as does the entire state of Texas. The canyon floor has abundant patches of prickly pear cactus from the poor ranching management of cattle before the canyon became a state park. The hogs actually root up and eat the tunas and distribute the seeds causing more prickly pear cacti to sprout. Minnesota does not have a feral hog problem. 

The teacher explained that he even had brought in a coyote skull from his personal collection, as the student was super confident it was a coyote!  They had a lively discussion with good results on putting into practice the Cycle of Scientific Enterprise in real life before absolutely declaring opinions!  It was fantastic he said. He thanked the demised feral hog, which gave them a really good lesson over the past several days, adding to their regular Earth Science study.

From here in Texas, I was able to do a teaching outreach to a student in Minnesota. That’ makes me happy.

Yes, yes  – I know the student should have left the skull in place in the state park. It is not my job to lecture on that aspect because his interest peaked in something he discovered by kicking some rocks. Learning should always be encouraged not censored.