Cumberland Times-News

Bob Doyle - Astronomy

March 29, 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.

But if we consider all of nature, the number of individuals or their total mass should be considered. Our species (Homo Sapiens) is having problems (especially in the developing countries) in securing clean drinking water and food.

There are only about 7 billion of us. The total human mass is about 350 million tonnes or 350 billion kilograms. One kilogram (kg) weighs 2.2 pounds and a tonne equals 1,000 kg. This makes humanity’s total weight to be 770 billion pounds.

If we divide this number by our population, the average human weighs 110 pounds (includes infants, preschoolers, students and peers, adults and the elderly).

How do we stack up against other species? It is estimated that all plants outweigh all animals by 99 to 1!

If we consider the most numerous living organisms, bacteria have an estimated total mass of 1,300,000 million tonnes. That is 3,700 times the mass of all humans. But should we consider life forms that are not visible to the eye?

Most of the several pounds of bacteria that we carry around in our intestinal track are good, helping us digest our food and converting some of it into vitamins.

Certainly by numbers of individuals, insects have us beat. Insects are creatures with an exoskeleton (on the outside), a head, a thorax, an abdomen, and three pairs of legs. All insects have antennae and compound eyes.

Insects make up about 80 per cent of the world’s known species. The number of individual insects now alive in the world is estimated to be 10 quintillion. A quintillion is 1 followed by 18 zeroes, in other words a billion times a billion. This is roughly 1.4 billion times larger than our human population.

It has been calculated that for every human pound, there are 300 pounds of insects. Of the insects, there is a fight between ants and termites for the honor of having the biggest mass of insects. (I realize that there are many species of both ants and termites, but let’s not make things any more complicated.)

Ants have been estimated to have a total mass of 2,700 million tonnes or nearly eight times the mass of all humans.

 Termites have been accused of producing 30,000 times as much methane as cows because of their faster metabolism. (Methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas whose heat trapping ability is 23 times that of carbon dioxide.)

Why should we be concerned about insects, little critters that sometimes infest our houses or live on our cats and dogs?

It is a matter of resources. Insects are a rich source of protein, without the fat in customary meats (such as beef, pork). Raising grains is water intensive with one ton of grain requiring thousands of tons of water.

The amount of water to raise one pound of beef is even worse, as often cattle are fed with grain and the grass in pastures needs much water to grow.

People in sub-Sahara Africa rely on insects as a protein source. A delicacy in mainland Chinese restaurants is fried scorpions! Raising a pound of insects takes one to two pounds of feed and water.

Insects can be ground up, forming a paste that can be made palatable and a good source of protein. And with the right conditions, insects can be grown in small enclosures, not requiring industrial feedlots (for cattle and pigs) that pollute water and streams.

References used include ‘Infographic History of the World’ and internet sources such as the Smithsonian Encyclopedia.

Sky Sights Ahead: We have our second new moon this month (where moon shifts from the eastern dawn to the western dusk). A slender crescent moon should be easy to spot in the 8:20 p.m. dusk on April 1.

The planet Mars is a conspicuous yellow-orange point of light low in the southeast in late evening. (Tonight Mars rises about 8:30 p.m. On April 8, Mars will be opposite the sun and shining all through the night.

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.

 

1
Text Only
Bob Doyle - Astronomy
  • It’s hotter here than in D.C. or Baltimore

    At this time of the year, the weather is a frequent subject of conversation, particularly the temperatures. We are now in the “Dog Days,” usually the hottest days of the year. The term comes from our sun appearing to be near the “Dog Star” (Sirius) and the “Little Dog Star” (Procyon). In reality, the sun is now about 94.5 million miles away while Sirius is 8.6 light years away with Procyon at 11 light years distance. Sunlight takes only 507 seconds to reach us, while the two dog stars’ light takes about a decade to travel to our eyes. So our sun is in the same direction (but not distance) as these two bright winter evening stars.

    July 20, 2014

  • Fronts, highs, lows determine weather

    Weather news on television and internet focus on violent weather, extreme temperatures and flooding.

    July 13, 2014

  • A long and winding road faces our food

    Last week’s column dealt with organs you can do without, our DNA (molecular blueprint for our bodies) and hair. My reference is “Body: Discover What’s Beneath Your Skin,” a Miles Kelly Book, written by John Farndon and Nicki Lampon and published in 2010. This column will consider finger and toe nails, breathing and coughing, saliva, mucus and your food’s long and torturous journey. Most cities and mid sized towns have nail shops where you can have your finger nails and toe nails adorned. Nail painting can be traced back 5,000 years.

    July 6, 2014

  • Here’s a look at what goes on inside you

    In high school, my favorite science course was biology. I can remember Mr. Munley in his wheelchair. Our class went on a field trip to the University of Miami Medical School where we saw the cadavers used by the medical students.

    June 28, 2014

  • Moon-watching easy when you know how

    Long before the first writing (scratches on clay tablets) appeared, our early ancestors noticed that the moon went through a regular cycle of shapes in about 30 days.

    June 21, 2014

  • Here’s how you can tell the stars, planets

    How can one tell one star from another at night? It’s a matter of knowing the sky areas (constellations).

    June 15, 2014

  • Smithsonian guide to stars is a good one

    At a local book store, I yielded to temptation and bought “Stars and Planets,” a Smithsonian Nature Guide written by four authors. Dinwoodie, Gater, Sparrow and Stott. It’s another Dorling Kindersley product with ISBN 978-0-7566-9040-3 and a 2012 copyright. “Stars and Planets” is a trade size paperback that is beautifully illustrated with appealing diagrams. “Stars and Planets” begins with the biggest topic, the Universe. There is a striking visual showing the known universe on the hugest scale, a delicate lacework of superclusters of galaxies with large voids. It resembles a bubble bath!

    June 8, 2014

  • Think a little more and be less frazzled

    Last Sunday’s column dealt with using technology carefully in education. What about technology in everyday life? There is a marvelous book “The Thinking Life,” by P.M. Forni, of The Johns Hopkins University which addresses this issue as well as timeless suggestions for living by Greek and Roman thinkers. “The Thinking Life: How To Thrive in the Age of Distraction” was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2011 with ISBN 978-0-312-62571-9. Dr. Forni also wrote “Choosing Civility” and “The Civility Solution”.

    May 25, 2014

  • Technology helps with learning, but take care

    Since I have been involved in teaching, two different technologies have been applied to learning at the secondary and collegiate level. The first was video (from videocassettes to DVDs) where a student or class might watch a presentation of some historical event, or a set of scientific principles or even a simulated exploration of the human body.

    May 18, 2014

  • Here are numbers that apply in our lives

    One of the best exercises is walking. Cardiologists suggest that each of us walk 10,000 steps per day. Assume each step is 0.5 meters or 19.7 inches. Then 10,000 steps would cover 5,000 meters or 3.11 miles. But studies find that the average American (from age 4 and up) takes only 2,000 steps/day or 1 kilometer.

    May 11, 2014

Latest news
Facebook
Must Read
House Ads