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CHS biology students complete bare bones projects

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX   — “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones …” could be the theme song for some students in Mark Mosey’s Colfax High School human anatomy and physiology class.

One of the third quarter projects for Mosey’s biology class involved stripping all the tissue and muscle from an animal skeleton, boiling the skeleton and then reassembling the bones.

Four of Mosey’s students — Chris Scharlau, George Scharlau, Wyatt Olson and McKenna Yingst — took on the daunting project of a deer skeleton.

All four students are juniors at Colfax High School.

Mosey says it has been many years since any of his students have done a deer as their project.

The objective of the project was to find an animal, whatever way you could get one legally, without poaching or something else illegal, and then you had skin it, take the meat off the bones, boil the skeleton to bleach it, and then you had to reconstruct the skeleton, the students said.

“And ours was the deer. We found the deer out in the woods. The coyotes had gotten to it, and they had eaten most of the meat off of it, so they did that job for us. We boiled it. We worked on it, and I bet we had 30 hours into it,” said Wyatt Olson.

“But the hot glue doesn’t stick the best, bone on bone. So it kept falling apart,” Chris Scharlau said.

“It’s just barely holding on,” added George Scharlau.

The students boiled the bones in a 25-gallon trash can. When the boiling process was finished, the bones were all lying in the bottom in a pile.

The next step involved separating the bones and trying to figure out which bone was which.

Once the bones were identified, it was a matter of trying to glue them together.

“Google was a big help. We had to look up a lot of pictures for the legs. We thought these bones here were the ribs, so we almost messed that up,” Chris Scharlau said.

The bones actually were the radius bone on the back part of the deer’s leg.

The students agreed, “it was a cool project.”

The first day they started boiling was in February.

Most of the boiling was done in one day, although the bones were boiled several times to get them as white as possible.

The process was like putting a puzzle together, and the students said “it was tricky.”

The vertebrae were fairly easy to put together because they hook one to the other, they said.

Keeping the skeleton in a upright position once it was put back together involved a series of upright rods, along with glue to hold it together and a series of twist ties.

The students said they could not tell why the deer had died. They did not find any broken bones, and while some of the ribs had been chewed, they attributed the marks on the ribs to the coyotes eating the carcass.

The students said they believed the deer was a young deer, although it was old enough to have antlers, so it was not a fawn.

After the students reached the point of putting together the remaining little bones, such as bones in the toes, they knew they were nearly finished with the project.

“Once it is put together, it looks really easy, but…,” Wyatt Olson said.

“When we had the bones in a bucket, we were thinking, what IS that?” Chris Scharlau said.

The hoof of a deer has bones within the hoof, so the students had to dig those bones out of the hoof in order to finish the project of putting the skeleton together.

“We only ‘broke’ the leg five times trying to get it glued together,” Chris Scharlau said.


Another project for Mosey’s anatomy and physiology class was a rabbit.

Trevor Rothbauer used a rabbit he had harvested during rabbit hunting season.

The project, he said, is a combination of two rabbits.

“The first one, I shot it in the head, so I needed to get a different rabbit for the head,” Rothbauer said.

Rothbauer also preserved the pelt from the rabbit as part of his project.

The hardest part was “gluing all the bones of the feet together. They are really, really small. Very tedious. Super glue. Trying to get them just right,” he said.

Gluing the bones in the feet was, he said, like trying to glue pieces of toothpicks together.

Rothbauer began his project by freezing the rabbit. Then he put the frozen carcass into a pot and boiled it. The next step was removing all of the meat from the bones.

The boiling process “did not take as long as I had expected. I only had to boil it about an hour or an hour and a half. And then it was pretty easy to take the meat off,” he said.

One of the appealing things about live rabbits is the little powderpuff tail.

The round little ball of fur does not look as if it has any bones.

In reality, Rothbauer noted, there are many bones in the tail of a rabbit.

Class projects

In addition to the skeleton projects for the third quarter of human anatomy and physiology, students have other projects from which they can choose.

While some students chose to do a project with a vertebrate skeleton, other students chose to compile a class lesson on a system of the body or to build a model, Mosey said.

On the day the Colfax Messenger visited the class, one student was giving a lesson on the human lungs.

The lesson involved a lecture, notes and a quiz.

The lesson also involved the students in the class, working in pairs, to make a “lung system” out of a plastic bottle, balloons, straws and rubber bands so when the diaphragm at the bottom of the bottle was pulled down, the lungs inside the bottle inflated.

The students could also build a model of body system, Mosey said.

With the bigger vertebrates for the skeleton projects, students work as partners, or in groups of three, or four with a project like a deer, he said.

“They get together to work, and there are always a lot of good stories, what ideas worked better than others,” Mosey said.

“It’s been many years since there’s been a deer (as a project). It was a lot of work for them,” he said.

“I saw them Sunday afternoon. They were bringing their project up to school in the back of a pickup truck,” Mosey said.

“The framework is really important. They needed to give the skeleton some support. And then it’s twist ties and glue. It forces them to problem solve along the way, and to figure out the jigsaw puzzle,” he said.

The biology projects also, unsurprisingly, teach quite a bit about anatomy — not to mention the value of team work.