The buck goat stops here 

We call them pronghorn antelope. The laugh's on us.

North American fauna is plagued with misnomers. To be fair, the first English speakers to land on the continent had their hands full naming a host of unfamiliar species before anyone even thought about venturing farther west. Many of these appellations—skunk, raccoon, moose, opossum, woodchuck—they simply adapted from Native American words, and when that fund ran out the first settlers named new animals, often quite erroneously, after Old World species to which they bore a passing resemblance.

So it is with the pronghorn antelope. First brought to scientific attention by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Antilocapra americana is the sole surviving member of a once-thriving family of even-toed North American ungulates—and not actually an antelope at all. To his credit, Clark called the animal he first noticed in South Dakota "a Buck Goat of this Countrey," adding that it merely resembled an African antelope or gazelle. It was Lewis, apparently, who started calling the thing an antelope. In any event, the name stuck (though in some places pronghorns are evidently known as "speedgoats," which definitely gets my vote if the matter is ever settled by popular ballot).

In fact, the pronghorn is more closely related to the giraffe and the okapi, both native to Africa, than to either goats or true antelope. Unlike African antelope, pronghorns shed their horns—which, uh, are not technically horns, consisting of a bony core and a black, keratinous sheath that falls off each year.

If the naming situation lacks a certain urgency for reform, it's probably because the pronghorn does share at least a few qualities with the African antelope. It fills a similar ecological niche, for one. Asking the antelopes' opinion isn't easy, either: you'd have to catch one first.

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Pronghorns are lightning-fast, often cited as second only to cheetahs for swiftness, but in fact capable of sustaining higher speeds than the cats. For all their speediness, though, they make lousy jumpers, preferring to shimmy under barbed wire fences, even when running all-out. This peculiarity has prompted advocacy groups in parts of the West to push for barb-less bottom strands in barbed wire fences, or for removing the bottom strands entirely.

Another pronghorn trademark—in common with true antelope—is the distinctive bouncing gait called pronking or stotting. Pronking on all four legs simultaneously is slower than running, which suggests a poor adaptation to high-speed predators. But it may actually be a form of boasting, advertising the animal's fitness—a little like an NFL running back deliberately slowing down for the last five yards. It is this behavior, the showboating, which arguably speaks most clearly to the pronghorn's common-to-this-country, fundamentally American qualities.

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