Humans are very, very bad at biological categories. We focus on general shapes and ecotypes and miss the biologically significant details that truly trace the history of life on our planet, and again and again our colloquial terms fall short of the expansive splendor of reality. I’ve written before about how the basic categorization schemes humans use don’t quite capture the way turtles versus tortoises, frogs versus toads, and other dichotomous pairings relate to one another, and today, we dive into a still-deeper morass: what is an antelope?
This seemingly simple question is actually such a mess of corner cases and evolutionary accidents that it not only defies an easy answer, but drags the concept of “deer” down with it. Let’s have a look.