Cumberland Times-News

Bob Doyle - Astronomy

March 3, 2012

FSU program focuses upon hoofed animals

Our Sunday programs are now held in Compton 224, as opposed to the Planetarium programs formerly held in Tawes Hall, soon to be demolished.

So we are now having programs that cover both the skies and a selection of animals in our Science Discovery Center. March’s program is “Hoofed Animals of Northern Lands and their Skies.”

These 4 p.m. programs have two parts, a half hour presentation in a large classroom (room 224) and then we go to the first floor to view the actual animals (preserved) in our Science Discovery Center where cameras are welcome. (There is an elevator for less mobile individuals.)

These sky-animals programs will continue through 2012 and 2013, changing each school month. In 2014, the new CCIT building (where Tawes Hall formerly stood) will open with a new planetarium facility.

 Last month, our featured program was “Bears and their Skies,” focusing on the eight bear species. Our March program treats well known animals with hoofs, who are herbivores (plant eaters). Even Toed Hoofed animals far outnumber the bears, often forming herds that number in the thousands.

We start with the best known deer — our local Whitetail Deer and Blacktail or Mule Deer (in western North America). Both deer have lighter rumps.

When alarmed, these deer raise their darker tails, exposing their brighter behinds so the rest of the herd can be alerted to a nearby predator. Female deer (does) also raise their tails so their fawns can more easily follow them as they race through the woods.

The two biggest deer are Moose and Elk, with the heaviest Moose nearly 1,500 pounds. With all that bulk, Moose are fairly slow.

To protect themselves during summer, Moose often go into marshes with water up to their nostrils and eat aquatic plants. During the winter, Moose subsist on twigs of willow and popular.

Elk, a subspecies of Red Deer, can weigh as much as 1,000 lbs. The Red Deer are the most widespread in the world, with several varieties on most continents.

 Caribou (called Reindeer in Europe) are even smaller; both sexes have antlers. For during the winter, Caribou can use their antlers and hooves to dig up lichens. Females retain their antlers until spring; pregnant deer can use their antlers to compete with males during lean times.

About two million Reindeer in Europe are domesticated (in herds tended by Laplanders). Fallow Deer can be found across Northern and Southern Europe, living in forests and grassland. Just as Reindeer, Fallow Deer can be domesticated and kept in herds. Most Fallow Deer have white spots over a brown coat.

The Musk Deer has tusks or long canines that offer protection, but no antlers. Musk males have a pouch of musk near their sex organs to attract females. Musk Deer can be found in Eastern Asia from Siberia, the Korean Peninsula and through much of China.

 North America has only one native antelope — the Pronghorn Antelope. Unlike the other antelopes (Bovids), the Pronghorns are the only species in their family.

They are the fastest mammals in North America, having been clocked at 50 miles per hour. Their name comes from the forward facing prong on the male horns.

While deer shed their antlers, the Pronghorns annually shed their sheath of skin over their horns. Female pronghorns either have short horns or no horns at all.

Pronghorns inhabit the arid areas of western U.S. and Canada. Their versatile coat (flat for cold air, erect when warm) allows them to flourish in the heat of a desert or the cold of mountainous areas.

 There are two Bovids (includes cattle, most antelopes, sheep and goats) in our presentation — the massive Musk Ox and Big Horn sheep. Musk Ox are the hoofed animals that live farthest North.

Their massive coat has rough coarse hairs that the snow and rain roll off and a soft inner undercoat that traps their body heat. Both sexes have sharp horns that face forward.

When the herd is threatened, they make a circle and face outwards with their sharp horns exposed to discourage any predators (mainly wolves). Their calves stay in the center of the circle, well protected.

Musk Ox are spread across Northern Canada, upper Alaska, Greenland and Northern Asia. Big Horn sheep have massive curving horns that are thick as a human arm. Like other horned animals, the horns grow throughout their lives.

In the summer, male Big Horn charge at each other, smashing their heads together in an effort to show dominance. Their skulls are thick so they can absorb the impact.

Just as some deer, Big Horns display alarm by lifting up their tails, exposing their white rumps. Big Horns live in western Canada and through the U.S. desert areas.

SKY SIGHTS THIS WEEK: Tomorrow the orange planet Mars will be closest to the Earth at a distance of 62.7 million miles. Mars is now rising as the sun sets and hanging in the sky all through the night. On March 7, the full moon will appear underneath Mars.

The two brightest planets, brilliant Venus and bright Jupiter are slowly approaching in the western dusk. The two planets will be side by side on March 13.

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.

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Bob Doyle - Astronomy
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