Lesson Plan

Bears of Glacier Bay 2: The Scoop on Poop

Brown Bear in Glacier Bay
Brown bears love the open areas of Glacier Bay
NPS

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Grade Level:
Sixth Grade-Eighth Grade
Subject:
Biology: Animals, Ecology, Wilderness, Wildlife Biology
Duration:
1 class period (50 minutes)
Group Size:
Up to 24 (4-8 breakout groups)
Setting:
classroom
National/State Standards:
NS.5-8.1 Science as Inquiry
Keywords:
bears, Brown Bear, scat, black bear, tracking, food

Overview

This investigation will introduce students to the importance of using good observation skills, which enables researchers to accurately collect and record data. Students will be given a sample of (teacher-created) bear poop to analyze. The scientific word for poop is scat. Through careful observation and examination, they will be able to answer questions about what bears eat, quality of habitat, time of year, and bear safety. 


Objective(s)

Focus Questions:

How do biologists study bears in Glacier Bay?
What can you learn about bears from examining their scat?
What can we learn from bear scat that can help park managers and visitors prevent bear-human conflict?  



Background

Our "Bears of Glacier Bay" curricula unit is divided into three lesson plans, each taking one class session to complete. They are part of our "Middle School Scientists" series that explore the fascinating research and resources of Glacier Bay National Park.

Check out the other lessons:

Bears of Glacier Bay 1: Name that Bear
Bears of Glacier Bay 2: What's the Scoop on Poop
Bears of Glacier Bay 3: Be Bear Aware


Park researchers use scientific tools and observation to study bear populations in Glacier Bay. Visible signs like well worn trails, rub trees, claw marks, tracks, and scat help researchers identify where bears spend their time, what they eat, if they are sick, and much more. Scat is one of the most important signs to look for when in the field. Bears are omnivores and their scat often contains identifiable remnants of their last meal such as grass, berries, seeds, fish bones, or hair. The scat varies quite dramatically depending on what the bear is eating at a particular time of year.

In the spring, bears are often seen grazing on young shoreline grasses, sedges, and other plants. Brown bears use their long claws to dig up plant roots such as sweet-vetch. Bears feed on beach and meadow plants throughout the spring and summer, and feast on the wide variety of berries that ripen in the late summer and fall.

When the tide is low, bears forage in Glacier Bay's extensive intertidal zone. Both black and brown bears can be seen scraping barnacles off of rocks and munching mussels. Occasionally brown bears are observed turning over large rocks and pouncing on the pricklebacks and gunnels (small eel-like fish) that live underneath.

Salmon are very important to bears in the late summer and fall. Bears eat many other animals when they get the opportunity, including such items as bumblebees, sand fleas, bird eggs, birds, voles, marine mammal carcasses stranded by the tide, and occasionally even other bears. Moose calf hooves have been found in bear scat in the lower bay, and brown bears in the upper bay have been seen patrolling spring avalanche slopes probably in search of winter mountain goat casualties.

Bear scat is a good indicator of bear activity. Scat tells us what a bear is eating and where bears have been. Some bears may feed on a carcass for several weeks, and a bear during this time could be very dangerous. Learning to identify scat, and reading these signs can help park managers and visitors take preventative measures to reduce bear-human conflict.



Materials

There are a few handouts to complete this lesson.

Additional Materials Needed:

  • Homemade bear scat ingredients (see investigation for details)
  • Student journals
  • Colored pencils or crayons
  • Scales for weighing
  • Newspaper, forks, tweezers, plastic gloves


Procedure

Engagement:
(15 minutes)

The entire lesson plan is available HERE.

Show students the library of black bear scat on the following website - http://www.bear-tracker.com/blackbearscat.html This will give them an idea of how variable bear scat can be at different times of the year. Have students make a list of different items they may expect to find in bear scat. Tell students they are going to become bear biologists in charge of analyzing a sample of bear scat.

Investigation:
(30 minutes)

  1. The day before the planned activity, make some bear scat from various non-allergenic ingredients. (It's probably best not to use nuts or peanut butter for this activity). For the best results, use Kellogg's Cocoa Krispies® or Rice Krispies® cereal. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter over low heat, add one jar (7 oz.) marshmallow crème until mixed, stir in 6 cups of cereal until well coated. This is the foundation of your bear scat. Divide the scat into three containers depending on how many groups of 3-4 students you will have. To each batch of scat, add a select number of items to represent consumed food items. Record your additions to each sample so you can determine the accuracy of student observations. You may want to include the following: gummy worms (represent meat), Swedish Fish (gummy fish), dried cranberries, dried or fresh blueberries, barley and/or rice (to represent seeds), green colored coconut (to represent grass). By varying your additions to the scat, you may create "spring, summer, or fall" scat samples. Use your imagination! Store in plastic containers for up to two days.  
  2. On activity day, give students plastic gloves, newspaper (for desk), forks, tweezers, bear scat sample, and Bear Scat Analysis Data Sheet. Explain the various categories on the sheet and help students identify each item. They should have an understanding that rice represents seeds, etc. If some students are not eager to "poke the poop," have them be data recorders.  
  3. Allow students approximately 20 minutes to observe, examine, and analyze their scat sample. Students should NOT eat or sample the scat at this time! Let them know that in this activity, accuracy counts! They should separate items into groups in order to get an accurate count of each food type. Students should record data on Bear Scat Analysis Data Sheet.  
  4. After careful examination of scat, have students clean up their area. Use your discretion if kids ask to eat the scat. Some kids may have fun, others may not be interested. 
  5. Using their results, have students estimate what percentage of their scat is made up of the different food groups. Have them create a graph and pie chart of their data. Share results and discuss.  

Explanation:
(10 minutes)

Biologists can tell a lot about bears from examining their scat. After students graph their data, ask them "What did you learn about your bear by examining the scat?" Allow them to talk with a partner to develop their thought processes and understandings of the scientific method. Ask each student to write their hypothesis in their science journals. Discuss how food type can indicate time of year or place.  

Assessment

Bears of Glacier Bay Assessment

The following pre and post tests provide assessment for material covered by the entire Bear Curriculum series (Investigations 1-3)



Extensions

Use the Glacier Bay Bear Scat Handout  to compare student samples to actual scat samples found in Glacier Bay. How do they compare and why?  



Additional Resources

References/Resources:

Official Glacier Bay National Park Website:
http://www.nps.gov/glba/naturescience/bears-at-glacier-bay.htm 

Alaska Department of Fish and Game - Wildlife Notebook Series: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=educators.notebookseries 

International Association for Bear Research and Management:
 www.bearbiology.com  



Vocabulary

carcass, forage, intertidal, omnivore, scat, scientific method