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

Overall Rating

Add your review
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

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