Cumberland Times-News

December 1, 2012

Science Sunday views Middle East animals

Bob Doyle, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— My Science Sunday talks for December will be on unusual mammals of the Middle East. These public presentations are given at 4 p.m. in room 224 in FSU’s Compton Science Center. This presentation will be given again on Dec. 9 and Dec. 16.

The Middle East includes two African countries (Egypt and Sudan) and nearby Asian countries from Turkey to Afghanistan. I selected Middle East mammals, some of which are on display in our Science Discovery Center.

After my brief half hour talk, visitors are invited to see the Cavallaro Collection, which includes specimens from five continents. Dr. Joseph Cavallaro, a retired medical doctor and researcher donated his entire hunting collection to Frostburg State.

This collection includes many full body mounts, where the animals are posing as they would be seen in their native lands. Bring your camera to take pictures of your children or friends next to the animals.

   The mammal most associated with the arid Middle East is the Dromedary Camel. Dromedary camels have one hump as opposed to the two hump Bactrian camel.

Bactrian camels still live in Gobi Desert of China and Mongolia. Bactrian camels have a long shaggy coat to protect them against the severe cold in central Asia.

When the two types of camel interbreed, the offspring have a single elongated hump. The humps store body fat, which can be converted to energy and water. Camel kidneys can process brackish (salty) water, the main type of water available in arid lands.

Dromedary camels can weigh over a ton with a length (head and body) of up to 10 feet, with a shoulder height of 6 feet. Pregnancy lasts from 14 to 15 months with one offspring. Dromedary camels typically live from 12 to 15 years.

   Perhaps the most elegant Middle East mammal is the Ibex, a mountain dwelling goat. Male Ibex have swept back, ridged horns that can be over 45 inches in length. The male Ibex lower their heads and charge at each other to determine who will be able to mate with the females.

Ibex can weigh over 300 pounds with a head-body length of five feet. Female Ibex have smaller horns to ward off attacks on their young. Ibex are herbivores, eating grasses, leaves, mosses and lichens.

A scary mammal living in Middle East and in both Europe and throughout Asia is the Wild Boar. Male Boars have fearsome tusks emerging from their lower jaws to slash and wound.

The Wild Boar’s nose or snout can rotate as they seek food; their nostrils can be closed to prevent dirt from entering. Wild Boars can weigh over 700 pounds, with a head and body length from three to nearly six feet. They stand nearly three feet tall at the shoulder.

Through breeding, farmers have transformed the Wild Boar into our domestic pig, that lacks the wild boar’s thick coat, long tusks and mean disposition.

   One of the cutest small mammals of the Middle East is the Fennec fox, weighing only a few pounds with a tail nearly a foot long. This fox has relatively big ears, to act as radiators (throw off body heat) and to give them better hearing to detect small rodents.

Fennec foxes fluff their tails and wrap their tails around their feet to reduce loss of body heat on cold nights. (My indoor male cat, Sunny also does this when sleeping on the sofa.) Fennec foxes have fur on their soles to protect them while walking on hot desert sands. Naturally, the Fennec fox has a tan coat to blend in with desert sand.

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: This evening the giant planet Jupiter is closest to the Earth at a distance of 378 million miles. Jupiter appears very bright because of its large size (11.2 times the width of Earth) and highly reflective ammonia crystal cloud tops.

The sunlight from Jupiter’s cloud tops takes about 34 minutes to travel to the Earth. Jupiter appears as a bright steady point in the East as it gets dark.

In the middle of this week, Mercury is at its farthest angle from the sun in the southeastern dawn. Look below and to the left of the brilliant planet Venus in the southeastern dawn about 6:20 a.m.

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