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On the Cutting Edge: Exploring Mammalian Anatomy with Pigs

Why pigs?

Pigs are excellent specimens for studying mammalian anatomy. The pig is a great example of a typical mammal and exhibits many similarities to human anatomy. They are ideal for students working in small groups, and their internal structures are typically easy for students to locate and identify.

Dissecting a pig presents a real learning experience that encourages critical thinking—especially when done with inquiry-based instruction.

Inquiring minds

What’s great about an inquiry-based approach to dissection is that students learn by critical thinking, questioning, and problem solving. Students can use these skills to further explore in the classroom and in the natural world. Therefore, it’s important to guide your inquiry-based dissection with questions that actively engage your students.

Engaging questions

Having students study their fetal pigs’ external characteristics prior to dissection presents an important learning opportunity. Ask the following questions as students observe the external anatomy of their fetal pigs.


  • Are any of your pigs’ external structures different from humans’? If so, identify them.
  • Are any of your pigs’ external structures similar to humans’? If so, identify them.
  • Which of your pigs’ external structures identify it as a member of phylum Chordata?
  • How does your fetal pig compare to others in the class?
    • How are they similar?
    • How are they different?
    • What might account for these differences?

How does your pig measure up?

Students may notice obvious size differences if they compare their fetal pigs. They can measure the length of their specimens to determine the approximate age at which fetal development ceased. Specimens should be measured from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail. String works better than a ruler for this since it bends and follows the curves of the body. Next, students measure the string with a metric ruler to obtain specimen length. The fetal pig’s approximate age can be determined using the chart below.

Length of specimen
Approximate age
(Days from fertilization)
4 cm 56 days
20 cm 75 days
25 cm 100 days
30 cm 112–115 days

What makes your pig a mammal?

Two characteristics that set mammals apart from other animals are hair and mammary glands. You may lecture your class about mammalian characteristics, or try an inquiry-based approach where students carefully observe the external features of their specimens to develop an understanding of these characteristics.

Each section is a teaching tool.

The fetal pig can be divided into 4 sections—the head, neck, trunk, and tail—each with external features that can lead students through further guided inquiry. Here’s another opportunity for students to carefully study their specimens’ external features prior to dissection.

The classic anatomy lesson

Inquiry-based pig dissection surpasses anything students can learn from print or pictures. Consider some of these engaging classroom kits, featuring Carolina’s Perfect Solution® specimens, for your next pig dissection activity.

Carolina Biological Supply Company offers a wide variety of preserved specimens to meet your dissection needs. To learn more about our Carolina’s Perfect Solution® specimens, visit www.carolina.com/preserved, where you can also find secure online shopping, product information, classroom resources, activities, and additional teaching tips.

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