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Desert Diary
Biology/Wise Man


Logically, it would seem that the scientific name of an organism should reflect some part of its nature; and often it does. Corvus neomexicanus translates roughly as the New Mexican crow, which makes some sense since it was described from fossil remains found in New Mexico. But how about the taxonomic order Edentata? The name means "without teeth", but only a few animals belonging to this group lack teeth. Others, such as the armadillo and the now extinct ground sloths were well supplied. That name did become a bit too much for some biologists, though, and they currently recognize those animals as belonging to the Xenarthra, meaning "strange or alien joints", in recognition of extra joints between some bones of the spinal column.

Yet other names more or less fit, but not really too well. The Beaver is Castor canadensis, translating as the beaver from Canada. True enough, Beavers occur in Canada, but also are widespread in the United States. And then, of course, there is the somewhat iffy scientific name of ourselves: Homo sapiens, translating as "wise man".
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


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.