Cumberland Times-News

Bob Doyle - Astronomy

October 6, 2012

October talks feature European mammals

My 4 p.m. Sunday presentations this month are about European mammals. Europe has twice the population density of North America. Consequently, there are fewer large wild mammals there than in North America.

The talks last about 30 minutes in Compton 224 and are held each Sunday in October.

The Western European Hedgehog is an insectivore (insect eater) that roams parks, gardens and fields at night. During the day, Hedgehogs hide under piles of grass or leaves or under bushes or logs.

The hedgehog spines appear soon after birth. When attacked, the hedgehog tucks its head and legs against its belly, curling itself into a spiny ball. A hedgehog body is about 10” long. Hedgehogs can run or climb trees as well.

Another insectivore is the European Mole, which lives underground. This species of mole is active both during the day and night. When worms abound, this mole paralyzes worms with a bite.

The paralysis eventually wears off if the mole doesn’t return. If their tunnels flood, the European Moles can escape as they are very good swimmers. European Moles are about five inches in length with a prominent pink nose.

Common Pipistrelle  Bats thrive across Western Europe. At nightfall, these bats emerge, hoping to eat flies, mayflies and moths. During the day, the Pipistrelle Bats roosts in crevices, cracks and buildings.

Males communicate with females during courtship. Nursery colonies may have up to 1,000 mothers and their single offspring. By smell and hearing, each mother can tell her bat baby from all the other bats.

The ancestor of all breeds of domestic rabbits is the European Rabbit.  Their coat is light to dark brown. Nocturnal in behavior, the European Rabbit has several orders of dominance. 

These rabbits have elaborate underground tunnels or warrens. Males protect juveniles from attacking females who may kill young rabbits other than their own offspring. European Rabbits have produced environmental destruction where they are introduced (such as Australia).

The Eurasian Red Squirrel has a coat that can vary from gray to red, brown and black on its back. Its tail is as long as its body. Body length is up to 10 inches. The ears are upright and tufted.

Red squirrels eats pine seeds, beechnuts, acorns, shoots, fruit and bark.  The Red squirrel is threatened by reduction of habitat and the American Gray Squirrel (an illegal immigrant!).

Living on both sides of the Atlantic is the muskrat. Its back toes have webs and its long tail can act as a rudder when swimming. A muskrat’s dives can be up to 20 minutes as its nostrils are covered by flaps.

The body length is about a foot with a tail a little shorter. The species’ name is from musky secretions around its genital area.

The rodent that has benefited the most from humans are the house mouse, living on both sides of the Atlantic. Its upperparts are dark while its underparts are white.

The female of this species is larger and stronger than the male. Its body is about three inches long with a tail two inches in length. The average litter size is three to eight with as many 10 liters a year. If all their offspring survived, a male-female pair could produce 1,000 mice in a year. 

The Edible Dormouse is brown to silver grey with white underpants and dark eye patches. This mouse was bred for human food in ancient Rome, hence its name. These dormice are about six inches in length with a tail nearly as long.

SKY SIGHTS IN WEEK AHEAD:  Tomorrow, the moon is at its third quarter phase, appearing half full in the southern dawn sky. On Thursday, the  crescent moon will appear near the brilliant planet Venus in the eastern dawn.

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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