Cumberland Times-News

Bob Doyle - Astronomy

May 5, 2012

grazing animals at their most prolific in Africa

— Our last spring public program for Science Sunday at Frostburg State opens today at 4 p.m. in the Compton Science Center in Room 224.

“Grazers of the African Plains” will be repeated the next two Sundays, same time and place.

Please enter via Compton’s front entrance facing the large open area and old dorms. You are advised to park near the Performing Art Center. (Proceed through FSU’s main entrance on Braddock Road and turn right, passing Pullen Hall and reaching a large parking area in front of the large Performing Arts Center. Compton Science Center is behind and to the right of the Arts Center and its front entrance faces away from the Arts Center.)

Why consider Grazers in Africa? Reason: Our Science Discovery Center has a wonderful display of such grazers (plant eaters) on display that you can see at close range. Africa has the largest number of such majestic animals in the world.

Why Africa and not Asia? or North America? or South America? There are two factors: the climate and land forms of sub Sahara Africa and the reverence of the African people for most of their large native animals.

Our program will consider the African grazers or herbivores from the smallest to the largest.

Springhares are rodents that jump like miniature kangaroos, covering 10 to 13 feet in a single jump. They resemble rabbits but have shorter ears and very long back feet. These creatures are nocturnal as they are vulnerable to predators.

In Botswana, Springhares are the main wild animal in a Bushman’s diet. Springhares hide in their burrows during the day and emerge at night to eat.

At any one time, about three-quarters of the Springhare females are pregnant, usually bearing one baby per liter, three times a year.

A little bigger are the dwarf antelopes and gazelles. These include the Dik-dik (with small, sharp horns), Klipspringer (great vertical jumper) and Gerenuk (with giraffe like neck and slim body to stand on back legs to reach upper leaves).

These grazers have scent glands below their eyes that they run against twigs and branches to mark their territory.

The larger grazing antelopes come in a wondrous variety of horns, coats and social groupings.

My favorite is a Bongo with a deep brown coat with a number of vertical white stripes. They rest during the day and eat at night. Bongos have small groups of females with a single male. Old males are solitary.

The largest antelope is the Eland, with twisting horns over a yard long. The Lord Derby Giant Eland can weigh well over a ton. Herds consist of six to 12 females with one or two older bulls. Other males form bachelor herds.

The common Zebra is an odd toed hoofed animal and can be regarded as an African horse, but can’t be trained to be ridden by humans or pull a wagon. A Zebra family has up to six females, led by a mature male.

When this male reaches 16-18 years in age, he is gently replaced by a younger male half his age. The old male then lives alone.   

The biggest grazer is the African Elephant, up to 13 feet at the shoulder, with giant ears, scary tusks and weighing up to 6 tons. To keep their weight up, elephants have to eat up to 440 pounds of plant material a day.

Lady elephants are pregnant for 22 months, after which they suckle their young for two years. The finger like extensions at the end of their trunks allow elephants to pick fruit off trees, and catch peanuts thrown their way.

Their trunks can take in 20 gallons of water so they can spray down their backs.

EVENING SKIES THIS WEEK: Tonight’s full moon will be the brightest full moon of the year as the moon is near its minimum distance to Earth (221,800 miles from Earth’s center to moon’s center).

This will result in a minimum surface to surface distance of 216,800 miles. Only by taking telephoto pictures of the moon when closest to Earth and farthest from Earth will you be likely notice a difference in apparent size.

A few days ago, brilliant Venus reached its most northerly position in the western evening sky. The Maya who watched Venus carefully had observation platforms where they could note Venus’ setting or rising at its most northerly and southerly positions.

The Mayans knew that every eight years, Venus went through five cycles (1/2 of a cycle seen after sunset, other half of a cycle seen before sunrise).

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.

Text Only
Bob Doyle - Astronomy
  • Odds are good that you didn’t know this

    Odds or Probabilities fascinate many people. There is a special website called and an accompanying location on Facebook at /BookofOdds .This website lists 400,000 odds. Three of the people who are involved in this media display have coauthored a book, “The Book of Odds” that presents some of key odds, drawing from polls and statistics published in journals. The authors are A. Shapiro, L.F. Campbell and R. Wright. This paperback was published this year by Harper Collins with ISBN 978-0-06-206085-3.

    April 20, 2014

  • Early morning lunar eclipse this Tuesday

    For the first time since 2011, our area may see a total lunar eclipse as the moon will pass through the Earth’s deep shadow.

    April 13, 2014

  • Here’s a fine guide to new Cosmos series

    This columnist recommends the new series: “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” presented on FOX on Sundays at 9 p.m. and on the National Geographic channel at 10 p.m. on Monday and Friday evenings.

    April 5, 2014

  • Which species is truly the most successful?

    When the question of success is raised, most of us think of lavish homes, sports arenas, cars or stocks owned.

    March 29, 2014

  • Earth’s climate keeps changing, but why?

    Earth’s climate has been subject to change, long before humans walked the Earth. Why should the climate change?
    The Earth is a dynamic planet, subject to the shifting of the crustal plates (which can lead to increased volcanic eruptions), the advance and retreat of glaciers and changes in the Earth’s motion about the sun (Earth’s axial tilt and the varying ovalness of the Earth’s orbit).

    March 22, 2014

  • History book starts from the beginning

    There is a new world history book, using a great variety of graphs. It is the collaboration of an Italian graphic designer, Valentina D’Efilippo and British journalist James Ball.
    Their book is “The Infographic History of the World,” published this year by Firefly with ISBN – 13: 978-1-77085-316-4.

    March 15, 2014

  • New ‘Cosmos’ debuts on television tonight

    Now that our clocks are on daylight saving time, today’s sunrise and sunset are coming about an hour later than yesterday. Yesterday’s sunrise was about 6:38 a.m.; today’s sunrise is about 7:36 a.m.

    March 8, 2014

  • What do these vital measurements mean?

     A while back, I wrote a column on how the U.S. has firmly held onto British units that the British themselves have abandoned (inch, pound, quart).

    March 1, 2014

  • Here’s an up-to-date guide to the universe

    There has been a surge in beginner’s books about the universe. The number of probable exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars) grows by several dozen each month.

    February 22, 2014

  • People and pet food have lots in common

    In our house reside one dog and three cats. I found Chapter 2 in Mary Roach’s “Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal” very interesting.

    February 15, 2014

Latest news
Must Read
House Ads