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Desert Diary


People who get to see behind the scenes at natural history museums often are taken aback by seeing drawer after drawer of the same kind of animal. "What do you need all of those for?" is a common question.

Well, put yourself in the place of an alien biologist arriving on earth and having its attention drawn to humans. What is a fair sample to allow characterization of our species? Think, for example, of the variety of people in the Juárez/El Paso region, with its variety of different ethnic and age groups, its short and tall, its fat and thin. And certainly even a large sample from there would be quite different from a large sample from Norway or Zimbabwe. Moreover, if our alien visited every 50 years, it would see changes in those populations between trips.

All kinds of organisms pose the same problems of genetic, sexual, age, and individual history variations, as well as change through time. Those large samples are the raw materials researchers use to try to tease out a true picture of the organism.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

A natural history collection

A portion of a sample of voles (Microtus) from New Mexico. Laboratory for Environmental Biology Mammal Collection, Centennial Museum.