Wednesday, April 13, 2011

People had come to see Wilbur when he was "Some Pig" and came back again now that he was "Terrific."

The other day, I was walking Max and he tried to eat an earthworm that was crawling across the sidewalk. It had rained recently, so they were everywhere and they were active. You know, active for earthworms. Which means they were kind of moving instead of just lying there, waiting to be stepped on.

Did you guys ever have to dissect earthworms in science class? I seem to remember doing this several times, and each time I spent the entire class completely befuddled because I had no idea what I was looking at. We were supposed to diagram all the little wormy inside parts but they all looked the same to me. This is around the time I realized I'd never be a doctor. Aside from not being able to identify even an earthworm's vital organs, I was not-so-handy with a scalpel. Instead of gently cutting one side of the worm open, I usually ended up slicing the worm in half lengthwise, which is not what we were supposed to do. I mean, MAYBE that'd be OK for Hogwarts Potions class, but it was not OK at Kettering Middle School.

Plus, we'd always have to draw pictures of the worm-insides and, while I was above average in art classes, my science diagrams usually ended up looking like I'd just drawn a bunch of blobby things that were supposed to be earthworm organs and labeled each blob with things like, "heart, maybe?" and "front...end?" because I couldn't even tell the front end of the worm from the back end. I mean, WHO CAN? Other than worm scientists or whatever.

We moved past earthworms and onto starfish. Sure. I mean, what? This is a thing kids dissect? I don't know. We had to use little scissors to cut them open instead of a scalpel and I thought that would be easier, but no, I completely mutilated my starfish. Sorry, Patrick. We also dissected a sheep's eyeball at some point and I do not gross out easily, but eyeballs give me the heebie-jeebies, especially when I'm stabbing at one sitting in front of me with sharp objects.

We didn't dissect frogs until my Bio II class in high school, and even then, only a few of us did the dissection and the rest had to just watch. Did the price on frogs go up around that time or something? I'm not sure what I was even doing in a Bio II class, other than it was an advanced class and I used to be smart, but I loved the teacher, Mr. Williams, who made the subject matter exciting no matter what it was. He also had what he called "half-times" in the middle of class, right around the time everyone's eyes would start to glaze over, where he would tell us stories like how he once painted his little brother green or he would bet someone that they couldn't eat a package of crackers in a certain amount of time.

Unfortunately, the most memorable part of his class was the quarter (yes, an entire quarter) that we dissected fetal pigs. You guys, it was so disgusting. Not so much the actual dissection itself, because for some reason that I don't want to think too much about, I have no problem slicing dead animals open (in a classroom environment...not, like, out in the wild), but the smell. Oh, the smell. Think of how disgusting a fetal pig might smell. Now think about how it might smell at the end of nine weeks. In the springtime. YEAH. Once it started to get really warm, toward the end of the quarter, it got pretty bad. Like, so bad that people would avoid that end of the building. And you know how sometimes when you go to Subway, you can still smell Subway on your clothes for the rest of the day? Well, it was the same with this classroom, except worse because, to my knowledge, Subway doesn't serve fetal pigs.

We dissected our fetal pigs a few times a week, working our way through each system, diagramming the organs and coloring them in with pretty colors. When class was over, we'd put our pigs back in their Ziploc bags (which had some sort of juice in it to keep the pigs...juicy) and keep them in the fetal pig fridge that Mr. Williams kept in his office.

Now, you might be wondering how we could tell our pigs apart from all the other pigs. Especially once they were all thrown into a fridge. It's not like fetal pigs have distinguishing marks, although some were bigger than others. But no, we could easily tell them apart and that's because, when Mr. Williams passed out our pigs on the first day, each nestled into its own comfy Ziploc home, he told us to name them. We wrote our pig's name on the bag and that's how we knew which pig to work on all quarter. And that's the story of how I dissected a pig named Wilbur for nine weeks straight.


  1. Fetal pigs, starfish and earthworms sound so much better than cow eyes and squid. Oh, God. I still remember the smell.

  2. Oh, maybe it was a cow eye? Cow eye, sheep eye, it was some kind of giant eye.

  3. Ugh, the fetal pigs were awful. This one time, in college, we had to take slices of the brain and put them in the correct brainy order. That was actually kinda cool until I spilled brain juice all over my shoes.

  4. I didn't take Bio II, so I didn't get to the fetal pig-- we just had frogs in Bio I. And I'm dying at your description of the earthworm, because I can't tell the front from the back end either unless it's actually moving (and sometimes not even then).

  5. You guys, where do teachers even get that stuff? Is there a discount dead animal store online or something?

  6. I posted a long comment about all this and Blogger deleted it. Stupid Blogger.

    Jennie, teachers order dissection supplies from companies like Carolina Biological Supply Co.

  7. What I had written previously was just that due to being a biology major in college for 2 years, and then a bio minor and bio class/lab TA for 2 years after that, I have A LOT of experience dissecting A LOT of different organisms and organs. Cow eyes, sheep hearts, invertebrates, vertebrates, you name it. My fetal pig was named Babette (after Babe but altered because she was a girl pig). The most intense thing I ever dissected was a shark: fish smell plus formaldehyde smell was beyond anything you can imagine. I worked with human cadavers too but that is a whole other set of stories.

    ALSO: Worm scientists are known as helminthologists and I almost became one (long story). Helminthologists can tell which end of a worm is which. I wanted to specialize in parasitic flatworms and the origins of the interspecies parasitic relationship. For the most part, flatworms look different at one end than the other.

  8. Could I possibly be more boringly didactic? Yes, I'm a hit at parties...