Cumberland Times-News

April 13, 2013

Fast or slow, all of our animals are interesting

Bob Doyle, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— I always consider books in terms of their attractiveness to beginners, particularly those containing instructive graphics and images. The publisher that excels at fine introductory science books is Dorling Kindersley or DK.

The book for this column is “Animal Life: The Incredible Visual Guide” by Richard Walker, published in 2009 with ISBN 978-0-7566-5234-0.

I am particularly interested in learning about animals for I often give tours of our Science Discovery Center on Sunday afternoons.

This year and last year, lacking a public planetarium facility, I give brief Sunday talks at 4 p.m. about different animals that we have on display in the Cavallaro Collection. Dr. Joseph Cavallaro, medical doctor, hunted for over 50 years, donated his fine collection of preserved animals from his hunting trips across five continents to Frostburg State.

My talks this month are about Predators of the African Plains — particularly lions, leopards and hyenas.

Following are some interesting facts I culled from “Animal Life.”

Living organisms fall into five kingdoms; single celled bacteria are the most abundant life forms. It is estimated that the bacterial cells in and on our bodies are about 10 times more numerous than human cells.

The Protists kingdom also consist of single celled creatures such as protozoa. The animal kingdom has 34 phyla or divisions. Thirty phyla (all lacking a backbone) have 97% of the known animal species.

Humans and many animals that attract our attention are of the phylum Chordata, which includes amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

When one considers skeletons, there are three options. Most familiar animals have internal skeletons, insects have an exoskeleton (on the outside), and earthworms have a fluid skeleton in their interiors.

As to life expectancy, the shortest lives (as adults) belong to the Mayflies which spend two to three years as nymphs but die after just six hours of flying.

Ocean Quahogs, bivalve mollusks caught off the coast of Iceland in 2007 were found to be more than 400 years old, the current animal longevity record.

Mammals are one the most successful classes of Chordata, inhabiting six of the seven continents. There are 27 orders in the mammal class. Mammals are endothermic (warm blooded), suckle their young and have hair (except the whales, porpoises and dolphins that live in water).

Mammals usually give birth to fully developed young, except the marsupials (who keep their young in a pouch) and the monotremes who lay eggs (such as the platypus).

In the animal kingdom, the slowest visible animal is the garden snail at 0.03 miles per hour (0.5 inch/second).  

The fastest land animal is the African cheetah at 60 miles per hour (for about 30 seconds before overheating). The slightly slower pronghorn antelope in the western U.S. can maintain a speed of 55 miles per hour. The fastest animal is the Peregrine Falcon, which on its dives can reach 175 miles per hour.

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: All this week the moon puts on a good display of its surface features through binoculars as it grows from 25 percent full this evening to half full April 10 to 75 percent full on April 13.

This evening the moon will appear close to the bright planet Jupiter. In the late evening hours, the planet Saturn can be seen in the southeast. To the right of Saturn is the bright star Spica of Virgo. (Saturn will shine steadily while Spica noticeably twinkles.)

High in the east is the golden star Arcturus, the brightest spring evening star. Early in the evening, you can still view Orion with his three star belt and Sirius, the night’s brightest star in the southwest.

Weather permitting, there will be telescopes set up following the Cumberland Astronomy Club’s meeting April 12 at the LaVale Public Library.

The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. and will feature a talk by a West Virginia physics professor. All interested sky gazers are welcome.

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