A Deep Look at Water, Wildlife

The Foundation was excited to participate in the Kitsap Water Festival again this year. This wonderful event brings 3rd and 4th graders from throughout the county to the Kitsap County Fairgrounds for a day of learning about water and how important it is. This year marked the first year back after the pandemic-induced hiatus.

Our exhibit was a collection of pelts and skulls together with plushies and cards with animal tracks and photos. Students got to match the different pieces to see what the animal would have looked like when it was alive and what kind of tracks it would have left. We encouraged students to consider what the pelts could tell them about where an animal lived.

Animals that spend a lot of time in the water have pelts that look and feel differently than those of animals that don’t spend significant time in the water. They learned that the pelts of beaver, otter, and muskrat are thick, dense, and tightly layered. Having a pelt like that, which is also oily, helps the animal stay warm and dry in the water. It’s kind of like having a built-in wetsuit.

In contrast, animals like coyotes and raccoons have pelts that are coarse, double layered, and fluffy. These animals have two layers of fur, a short fluffy inner layer for warmth and insulation and a longer, tougher layer on the outside that protects the animal when pushing through bushes, brambles, and other vegetation.

Deer and rabbits have short coats that allow them to slip easily through vegetation and are colored in a way that allows them to blend in with their environments. This camouflage protects the animal from predators.

Students also learned that you learn a lot about what an animal eats by examining the animal’s teeth. Members of the rodent family such as beaver, muskrat, squirrels, and rabbits have teeth that are made for gnawing. Their strong front teeth have a reddish color because these teeth have a natural iron coating making them strong enough to chew through wood. Rodent teeth keep growing and the animal needs to gnaw on hard things, like wood, to keep the teeth from growing too long.

Bears and raccoons have similar looking teeth and eat a similar omnivorous diet. They have both sharp ripping teeth for tearing meat from bones and flat grinding teeth for eating berries and plants. Omnivores eat both plants and animals.

All the pelts and most of the skulls (the exceptions were the replica black bear skull and replica human skull) are from real animals that can be found living on the Rhododendron Preserve. The pelts and skulls were all purchased for education purposes. The students found it fascinating to learn more about our native fauna in a safe hands-on fashion and our wonderful volunteers had a delightful time encouraging them to explore and think about what the interpretive materials could tell them.

– Katha Miller-Winder, Education Committee