Predators in Environmental Science

“Ouch, that’s sharp,” a seventh grader said as the teacher passed around the claw of a great horned owl. “I wouldn’t want to get scratched by that.”  

His classmates at George Fischer Middle School agreed.  

Julia King, a naturalist at Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES’s Center for Environmental Education, visited Kerri Malheiro’s environmental science class in January and talked about the role of predators in an ecosystem.   

“Why might an owl need sharp talons?” King asked.    

“To take down their prey,” Christian said.   

“That’s right,” King said. “And to carry it away. A great horned owl can lift 500 times its weight.” 

King talked about adaptations that have helped various predators rise up the food chain.  

Then she passed around a live snake and the students got to see it flick its forked tongue.   

“The snake’s tongue picks up scents in the air,” King said. “It can tell the snake which direction to go to find food.”   

After discussing the relationship between predator and prey, King showed what can happen when a predator at the top of the food chain disappears from the environment. The predator in this case was the wolf and the environment was Yellowstone National Park.  

“That’s going to have an impact on the ecosystem,” Caiden said. “It’s going to affect biodiversity.”  

Malheiro, the classroom teacher, clapped her hands.  

“That’s great,” she said. “This is exactly what we’ve been talking about in our class.”