Certain misconceptions just won’t go away. While some of them may be virtually harmless, like how a lot of people mistakenly believe Dimetrodon is a dinosaur(it is actually a synapsid, see my post “I don’t eat dinosaurs” for more info), some can have real world consequences on policy and how we live our lives.
One of the more annoying misconceptions I encounter when it comes to the animal kingdom is the idea that ferrets are rodents. I can’t count how many times someone has told me or I’ve overheard someone say “I could never keep a ferret as a pet, they are rodents!”(whether or not true rodents make good pets is beside the issue of this post).
Ferrets are not rodents, they are members of the glorious mustelid or weasel family. Mustelids belong to the large order carnivora, which means they are actually more closely related to other members of carnivora like dogs, cats, and bears than to rats and mice. What ferrets and other mustelids do have in common with rodents is their common mammalian heritage, which would also make them distant relatives to humans.
Yet this kind of ignorance persists, even though it is so easy to correct by merely looking it up online. Why does this misconception matter? There are often local, and state laws against keeping ferrets, and this kind if ignorance can influence policy. It can also affect the attitude some people have toward this animal, or their close relative the badger, which is getting treated like a pestilence in the U.K these days. See articles below for more info on this subject.
Other members of the mustelid family include minks, polecats, and wolverines, the largest and most ferocious of mustelids. Skunks used to be classified as mustelids, but recent genetic evidence has lead to them being reclassified in a closely related group. Don’t worry, skunks have been doing okay since reclassification; they are especially good at stinking up my neighborhood at night.
So this misconception has far more profound implications than thinking Dimetrodon is a dinosaur. Sure, the toy section at the local pharmacy may put the toy Dimetrodons with the dinosaurs, implying it is a dinosaur. Truth be told, Dimetrodon(or “cousin Dimi” as I affectionately call him sometimes, since Dimetrodon is more closely related to us than to dinosaurs) was not a dinosaur and went extinct long before the dinosaurs roamed the earth, but no one is harmed by this.
Other misconceptions that bother me, like Sikhs being thought of as Muslims, or people thinking Turks, Persians, and Pakistanis are Arabs are also disturbing, but that would require another post or two.