Education visits

Giant tortoise ecology: fruits, poo and being a scientist

In this session

We open up with a discussion (alongside some props and images!) about what science is, what scientists do, and how kids in the class might get to do some of these things. We learn about what ecology is, what food chains are, and start thinking about experiments to compare the effects of different treatments.

Oxford Natural History museum poster

Children will propose how a scientist can compare seeds treated different ways and design an experiment to test whether plums really do need to have the cold treatment of a winter for the seeds to know that it Spring and time to grow. We then eat our plums and, using equipment provided, plant two sets of seeds to set up our experiments. There is then “one I've prepared earlier” with plants already growing so that we don't need to wait 2 weeks for our results – children use this to decide how to measure and present the results.

The live tortoise then makes an appearance to discuss other effects on seeds – like the effects of 3 weeks in a tortoise's stomach and stewing in its bowels. We talk through real life research with giant tortoises, large poos, and lots of sunshine, and children analyse and present the results of “another one prepared earlier” seed germination results from Mauritius.


During Adam Moolna's PhD he developed a series of outreach classes for Rochdale local authority, Manchester, to promote ecology and university education using the exciting giant tortoise work he'd done in Mauritius. The idea was to show some of the exciting possibilities that a university education could offer.

The giant tortoise story and photos (expecially, for some reason, the giant poo that takes 18 days from mouth to rear) makes young kids laugh and interested - and the tropical island images are exciting too! With Adam being a local Mancunian who'd gone and played with giant tortoise poo on tropical islands, the idea was that the kids could connect with this kind of job as being a possibility for them too.

Poster and live tortoise at the Oxford Natural History Museum Fossil skull of giant horned land tortoise at the Oxford Natural History Museum Giant tortoise from the fieldwork in Mauritius

The material was also adapted for an evolution outreach programme at Oxford Natural History Museum to celebrate the 200th anniversary in 2009 of the birth of Charles Darwin. Also note the photo (middle) of Adam's pet tortoise dwarfed by the giant fossil skull of an extinct Australian giant horned land tortoise (genus Meiolania).

Work with Matthew Moss High School through Rochdale Local Education Authority led to a more engaged long term relationship. This included arranging a visit to the Manchester University botanic gardens (complete with giant Goliath stick insects!).

Goliath stick insect (Eurycnema goliath) Matthew Moss High School, visit to Manchester University botanic gardens - happy school kids! Matthew Moss High School, visit to Manchester University botanic gardens - a happy teacher!
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