Classroom Pets, “A 1000 ways to die.” More or Less


Warning this is a little dark but all true.

I don’t know all the diffewrent ways for humans to die but I do know a few for small classroom animals.

What I have learned:

If you wish to euthanize a gerbil have a student feed it bar B Q potato chips when you are not looking. I don’t know if the death is painless but apparently fairly quick.

I had a survival aquarium where kids who found anything in water less than 6 inches long could bring it to school and put it in. Given the one particularly clever crayfish and the bass that grew to over a foot long lots of different things died in that aquarium. The kids 40 years ago seemed to better realize that nature was a tough place and no one complained about the bloodshed.

I kept snakes…… between the snakes, and survival aquarium ..mice,earthworms,crickets, and meal worms did not have a high survival rate.

When you get a call from a child that has taken home an animal over the weekend or a vacation (this used to be fairly common) it is never good news, particularly when the child on the other end of the line is crying and basically incoherent. In this particular case the student kept saying, ” it was the rah…. rah….rah…”. I was having a little problem with the cheering when it finally became apparent that the gerbil while running loose had a bad experience with Grandma’s “rah”king chair. The child was quite fearful that the class was going to hate him for killing the class pet. I told him that when he got to school the next Monday there would be a new gerbil in the cage and that if he told no one what had happened no one would notice. He didn’t and no one did

Spring almost always brought a rash of near dead baby animals as parents moved them out of their house and into my room. I always gave my late winter speech about leaving them where you find them but it apparently was never delivered well as the problem kept occurring. Baby animals, none of which, in 40 years of teaching did I ever manage to save. Birds weren’t too bad but the baby rabbits were often heartbreaking. I came the closest with a robin but it died for some reason after getting almost all its feathers and almost being ready to fly.

Raising chicken eggs in an incubator should be a fun educational experience but for me it was an unending horror story. We had gone through two batches of eggs, turning marking, checking eventually producing nothing but a very bad odor when we finally cracked an egg to check. Finally I thought to ask the farm kid who was bringing in the eggs if they had a rooster…. They didn’t and so I learned about the magic of laying mash and some of the 5th grade students got their first sex education lesson. Eventually we got some viable eggs and finally one of them actually hatched a beautiful little yellow fluffy chick unfortunately with its legs in effect on backwards. Somewhere we must have made a mistake in our incubation routine or just had bad luck. Chickens with their legs on backwards do not stand up well in fact they just lay there and struggle to get up. A Long classroom discussion ensued about what to do. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, the chicken who could not feed itself died mercifully the next night of “unnatural” causes.

I had a kid proudly bring in a whole 5 gallon bucket full of garter snakes one year. When we opened it up half the snakes were dead. When I questioned the kid about the dead ones he said, “Sometimes they die when you catch them,” at the same time stomping his foot down hard on the floor.

Snakes almost never died in my room but they had a very high mortality rate when they got loose and were found by a female staff member in the women’s restroom.

I have learned that an oriental preying mantis will catch and eat a toad if placed in the same terrarium together. This tends to cause meaningful upset in a classroom particularly when it is discovered immediately after lunch and the half eaten toad is still alive.

I have learned that a tiger salamander will attempt to eat a garter snake 4 times its length. I also learned that the snake can be pulled back out of the salamanders gut and survive.

Putting small rodents who are new to each other together in the same cage sometimes leads to one of them disappearing over night or in really bad cases only half disappearing.

Hamsters have a fatal flaw that involves a total lack of fear of heights and classroom desks are in some cases just too high for hamster diving.

The only animals that were in my classrooms that hardly ever died were cockroaches although I did discover that a pop bottle with about an inch of pop in the bottom of it makes and excellent roach trap when left on the floor of your room.

All in all the positives of having animals in the classroom outweighed the negatives but some days it certainly didn’t seem that way.

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About safrisri

I was a school teacher until retirement. I have taught at all educational levels from pre-school to college. My college degree is general science which I arrived at after 5 years and 5 different majors. A degree as it turns out, almost as valuable and in demand as one in Neo-Bulgarian Mythology. I have been around education for around 40 years and can remember when teaching was a pleasant, happy and creative job and our schools were the same. Now I'm the guy sitting on the porch with an opinion on everything.
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