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Desert Diary
Mammals/Pronghorn Taxonomy


With perhaps something like 1.7 million species of organisms named, keeping track of things gets confused very quickly. To make things worse, though, it's estimated that there may be as many as 10 million names that have been applied to those species. Extra names happened often in the past because of lack of communication. Taxonomists in different places applied different names for the same species, resulting in synonyms; or sometimes they unknowingly applied the same name to different species, forming homonyms.

With improved communication, we can hope that such occurrences are rare now. There is another reason for name confusion, though. Taxonomists group together organisms that appear to be closely related to each other, and as new evidence accumulates, we often have to correct misplacements. We've long assumed that our desert Pronghorns, also known as Pronghorn Antelopes, were closely related to the Bovidae, which includes cattle, sheep, and true antelopes. Recent studies of the genetic material itself, however, suggest that the Pronghorns are most closely related to—of all things—the family that includes the giraffes. Go figure!
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.


Male Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana). Photographer: Gerald and Buff Corsi. © 1999 California Academy of Sciences.



Hassanin, A., and E. J. P. Douzery. 2003. Molecular and morphological phylogenies of Ruminantia and the alternative position of the Moschidae. Systematic Biology 52(2):206-228.