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Desert Diary


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Humans classify things all the time, grouping items having something in common into a single category. This is handy, because everyone knows what we mean without all the details being spelled out. Or at least, that's the theory. In practice, we often run into trouble because a single object can fit into a number of different classifications.

Mr. Nix, for example, had a problem when he ran into a tariff charged on vegetables but not fruit. He maintained all the way to the Supreme Court that his tomatoes were fruit, and he shouldn't have been charged the tariff. The Supreme Court agreed that the tomato, botanically, was classified as a fruit—but, that it, along with "cucumbers, squashes, beans and peas" were classified in common parlance as vegetables and so-treated at the dinner table. So poor Mr. Nix paid the price for adhering to the wrong classification.

We run into the same problem with some of our desert animals. By a common classification, Bassariscus astutus is a ringtail cat. To frustrated zoologists, it's a cousin to raccoons!
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest. rule

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.


Bassariscus astutus. Photographer: James T. Johnson. Copyright 1999, California Academy of Sciences.