Archive for the ‘Neuron – vol. 4 (issue 2) – Nov 5 (2007)’ Category

October 9, 2009

Take Part in This Fall’s Wadi Degla Cleanup by Joining the Biology Club and the Environmental Awareness Association on Friday, Nov. 9th .

Wadi Degla is a beautiful protectorate just outside Maadi, but its beauty is masked by thousands upon thousands of plastic bags blown into it from the city and the nearby recycling factory. Every semester, the Biology Club and the EAA organize a cleanup to clear the most beautiful part of the Wadi of plastic bags. (If you join us, you may also get a chance to explore a bat cave.)   

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Limited Seats! Refreshments Will Be Provided. Fees Between 10 and 20 L.E. MIGHT Be Required. If interested, please contact Maha Khalil at pheonix@aucegypt.edu or Ali Fahmi at a_h_fahmi@yahoo.de  

Rice Chaff Waiting to Be Burned

October 9, 2009

Kalyubia, North of Cairo.

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Picture taben by Maha Khalil

The Gecko

October 9, 2009

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A gecko lizard can climb up a vertical pane of glass with the help of neither a foothold nor a sticky secretion. In fact, a gecko can hang from a glass ceiling by one toe! How…? Give up? It does it via millions of tiny, hair-like projections called seta on its toes which are so small that they can approach the molecules of glass closely enough for chemical forces called Van der Waal’s forces to take effect. That is REALLY close! These forces create a partial difference in charge between the gecko’s toe and the glass molecules. These partial charges are not permanent, and the gecko can unstuck its foot very quickly by simply manipulating it at the right angle. “It’s freaky but it’s a fact: gecko lizards’ hairy feet help them achieve – er – highness on a pane of glass!” 

Sources:

Animal Planet.

Hill, T.; Mcreary, J.; Petrucci, R and Perry, S., 2002. General Chemistry. 4th edition. New Jersey, Pearson Prentice Hall 

On Board the Bat Boat!

October 9, 2009

By Maha Khalil

 

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 Yet another Biology Club bat-watching felucca set sail for two hours on Thursday, October 25th carrying twelve people, large quantities of pizza and pepsi, a forsaken cheesecake and a curious little device shaped like a small black box with knobs. This device is the star of the show. The so-called “bat-detector” is the means by which you can “watch” bats. It translates the ultrasonic waves emitted by bats to sounds that human ears can detect, and, depending on the frequency the device is set to receive and the description of the sound, you can find out which kind of bat you just detected.

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 Many people believe or have been told that bats are blind and that this is why they use echolocation. But this is not true! No species of bat is blind. However, bats do use echolocation along with their sense of smell in order to find their food. They also use it to navigate in the complete darkness of their caves.

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 Bat-watching aside, the ride is a very relaxing and enjoyable way to spend the evening with friends or get to know some new friends. The refreshing Nile breeze and the good company are always worth the fifteen minute walk from campus to the docks. The ride takes place once every semester, always at dusk which is when the bats are usually flying about. If you missed us this semester, just look out for our fliers in the Spring…

The Barn Owl

October 9, 2009

By Richard Hoath, Faculty Advisor of The Biology Club

 

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Sometimes it can be truly amazing what the natural world can turn up within the very middle of a sprawling conurbation of 17 million human inhabitants. But if you happen to be on campus at night, take some time out to look up at the night sky and perhaps, if you are very, very lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the ghostly white form of a hunting Barn Owl. I’ve seen one on two occasions here, both times near the basketball court, and Dr. Andy Main helped rescue another that was found tangled in the netting that covered the trees in Fountain Court. It was successfully released.

The Barn Owl Tyto alba is a medium-sized owl, some 36cm long with a 90cm wingspan, the female slightly larger than the male. It is freckled sandy-brown above and, in most races, pure white below. It has a distinctive heart-shaped facial disk and, uniquely amongst Egyptian owl species, dark eyes. Owls have very good binocular vision but very poor peripheral vision. They make up for this in having a neck that can twist an astonishing 270 degrees. While it is true that owls have excellent eyesight and see far better than us in darkness, most prey is located by sound. The facial disk focuses sound to the owl’s sensitive ear openings that are placed asymmetrically. In this way the owl can very accurately home in on its prey even in complete darkness.  Owls also have specially adapted flight feathers enabling them to fly in total silence, all the better to hear their potential prey.

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Our urban Barn Owls will probably be feeding largely on House Rats, House Mice and Cairo Spiny Mice. They swallow their prey whole and then later cough up the indigestible parts such as hair and bones as a pellet. Researchers find these pellets of considerable interest as they not only tell us what the owls are feeding on but can be a major clue in assessing the distribution of small mammal species in particular. Indeed in Australia the Big-eared Hopping Mouse is known solely from remains found in owl pellets. It has never been seen alive! Biology Professors Dr. Jeff Miller with Dr. Hamada collected a great many pellets while working here, not just of Barn Owls but also Long-eared and Little Owls.

In Egypt the Barn Owl is largely confined to the Nile Delta and Valley and North Sinai. However as a species it has one of the widest global ranges of any bird nesting on all continents except Antarctica. It has some very rare relatives though, notably the Madagascar Red Owl and the Congo Bay Owl that has only ever been found twice in its central African forest haunts.

It is uncertain whether the Barn Owl breeds near or on campus but at least until recently there was a pair breeding just off Ibn Zanki in Zamalek. Indeed, for those who like their owl watching more upmarket, Barn Owls can sometimes be seen quartering over the terrace café outside the Marriott. 

Sources

Menkhorst, P. and F. Knight. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.

Mullarney, K. et al. Collins Bird Guide. London: HarperCollins, 1999.

Going, Going, and Soon to Be Gone?

October 9, 2009

By Hazem Sharaf

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 Global warming is not a myth anymore. In August of this year, it was recorded that the North Pole ice cap has shrunk to a record low, beating previous records of summer 2005 by 50%. The ice is still shrinking at this moment though with a declined rate as it normally starts freezing up again by mid September. Previous estimates predicted an iceless summer for the north Arctic Ocean by 2080. But after this year’s accelerated record melting, models were revisited, and conservative estimates now predict an iceless summer as early as within 20 years from now

The current thawing has one immediate effect and two mid- to long-term disastrous effects.  The first immediate effect is a geopolitical one. Russia is calling for an extension of its maritime claim, especially the ridge of dsadsd, which climaxed by the planting of the Russian flag under the North Pole using a submarine. Canada is also concerned about its drilling rights for oil and gas. The second immediate effect is the opening up of the Northwest Passage for the first time in recent history. This Northwest Passage, although only partly navigable due to floating ice chunks, goes through Canadian islands and Greenland. It would open new shipping trade routes vital for the oil tankers. Already villages in North Greenland have started to suffer the effects of that. During previous summers, the frozen oceans usually stayed intact with land, allowing the famous Eskimos to hunt in the ice. Now, the frozen sea started retreating back, altering their long-lived habits and traditions. Polar bears are one of the worst affected animals nowadays. They rely heavily on the sea ice, and their populations are falling at a rate which theoretically would lead them to extinction within 100 years. Although they are only listed as vulnerable species, after this year’s accelerated melting, they will probably be classified as officially endangered species. 

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However, the melting of the ice caps doesn’t have a direct impact on rising sea levels. This ice is already present and it’s just melted. The effects would be mid- to long-term on Greenland. The ice used to reflect 90% of the incoming sun rays. The absence of that ice and exposing of dark blue sea would allow for the energy to be stored as latent heat in the sea. This would lead to the warming of Greenland and melting of its ice into the sea. A second mid- to long-term effect would be the altering of the wind and precipitation patterns of the northern hemisphere. Climate models expect longer growing seasons and more precipitation at northern latitudes providing a chance for sustainable agriculture, but after the surprisingly increased melting levels, these models would be revisited. What about the effects on winter for the rest of the globe? Cold air shots that cause winter storms and freezing snaps that form over freezing surfaces, now that they would form over cold water rather than ice, what effects would this have on winter? What about the climate in the southern latitudes? Would ecosystems have enough time to cope? Would we, human beings, be able to stop what is caused by the ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases? All are being addressed by the top countries in conferences about global climate change in the United Nations. Let’s hope and pray that we are not starting to act very late, and that we really are starting to act. 

Sources

<http://nsidc.org/news/press/2007_seaiceminimum/20070810_index.html#20September&gt;.

<http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7005483.stm&gt;.

<http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2642773.stm&gt;.

<http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6995999.stm&gt;.

<http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/archive.html?tstamp=200708&gt;.