Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Schoolroom Zoos
Nature Bulletin No. 647-A   September 17, 1977
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

The main difference between animals in a zoo and animals on a farm is that, although both are confined behind fences, in cages, or are under the daily care of man, zoo animals are kinds that normally live wild and free while our farm animals are domesticated.

Our farm livestock, such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys -- as well as our dogs and house cats -- were all brought under domestication by ancient man, mostly before the dawn of history. Over the ages, by artificial selection, these have been tamed and changed so strikingly to fit man's needs, whims and way of life that they are seldom able to survive and breed in the wild.

Birds, mammals, reptiles and other wildlife are kept in zoos not because they work or produce meat, milk, eggs or other products. Instead, they are kept to satisfy our curiosity and teach us about the animals in other parts of the world.

But it is not necessary to bring animals from the ends of the earth in order to become skilled zoo-keepers. It can be done in your schoolroom with the common, small, wild animal life of this region. A few small terrariums, aquariums, cages, boxes and jars in the "science corner" or on the "science table" of a schoolroom can house a dozen or more different ones which can be fed, cared for and studied. Just as some gardeners are said to have a "green thumb, " some people are more successful than others in the care of animals because they are close observers, use their ingenuity, care for and understand their pets.

Frog tadpoles are favorites. Kept in a small aquarium or jar of water, they are hardy and easily fed on algae, bits of lettuce leaf and other plant material. Of the several local species of frogs all but the green frog and bullfrog go through their entire tadpole stage and transform into small adults during their first summer. Green frog tadpoles are best because they can be collected from ponds in autumn and watched during the school year as they grow legs, absorb their tails and change over from gill-breathing tadpoles to lung-breathing, flesh-eating adults.

The habits of any of hundreds of kinds of insects, both land and water species -- how each eats and breathes -- can be watched in the classroom. A wide-mouthed bottle with a chunk of overripe banana and a strip of paper towel will attract and breed the fruit flies which have been used so widely in the study of heredity. All stages of their life cycle -- eggs, larvae, pupae and new adults -- can be seen within two weeks. Ground crickets can be reared in a gallon jar with an inch of damp sand and fed on bits of lettuce and oatmeal paste smeared on small pieces of paper.

The variety of native animal life suitable for the schoolroom zoo is very wide. Among the vertebrate animals are adult frogs, toads and salamanders; small snakes and turtles; such small fish as bullheads, sunfish and minnows; and even wild deer mice which, incidentally, do not smell "mousy. " There are also crayfish, snails, leeches, earthworms and a host of others which can be collected.

Now, with the beginnings of space travel a reality, earth-bound man is dreaming of new worlds to be discovered and colonized. Whether such a world already has life, or whether man will take earth's plants and animals with him, the process of domestication must certainly be repeated. Then, the skills learned in the "science corner" of your schoolroom may be all-important.

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