Animals are cute. That’s undeniable. But have you ever wondered why some of them have horns or antlers? What about the ones that are shed or simply keep growing? What’s their purpose and function?
Hang on tight because we are about to embark on a wild spine, barbs, spikes, racks, and points journey to answer all of your questions. Let’s begin with the basics to set the foundation of what we are about to learn.
Animals With Horns and Antlers: Your Guide to All Things Antlers and Horns, and the Animals That Use Them.
What Are Antlers?
Antlers are a pair of bony, branched structures protruding from the frontals of the skull of animals and are shed annually. They have been reported growing up to 200 inches (508 centimeters) depending on the species and age. Antlers grow from the supporting structures that develop in the lateral region of the frontal bones called pedicels.
As antlers grow, they are covered with velvet, which transports nerves and blood vessels. During the last stages of growth, velvet begins to fall off and they’re filled with coarse, spongy, lamellar bone, and marrow spaces. Any remaining velvet is removed when the animal rubs his antlers against trees or other vegetation.
Males use their full-grown antlers during the mating season, sometime between August and October. Antlers are useful in social interactions and competition for females. Once the days begin to get shorter in winter, the pedicel loses calcium, weakening the point of connection between it and the antler. When the attachment is weakened the antlers fall off.
Males are without antlers for a few months in late winter until the cycle begins again during each. One interesting fact about antlers and animals is that they are present only in males. Unless you’re a caribou. Then, both males and females grow antlers.
What Are Horns?
Horns are a pair of permanent, keratin structures protruding from an animal’s front part of its skull. These occur in males of all species of cloven-hoofed animals. They’re composed of a bony core covered with a sheath of keratin.
Horns never stop growing. A horn’s core begins as a small growth under the skin, over the skull, known as ossicones. Unlike antlers, neither the sheath nor the core is ever shed. Horns never branch, but they do vary in shape and size from species to species.
Both males and females of larger species grow horns. Females of smaller species lack them. When both sexes have horns, the males’ tend to be thicker at the base and able to withstand more force. On females, they’re straighter and thinner.
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The Purpose and Growth Rates of Antlers and Horns
Antlers and horns serve different purposes. Antlers are generally used to attract females and select a mate during the breeding season, as well as to deter competition and for combat. Antlers are the fastest-growing bone in the world. Mere weeks after shedding, a new set begins to grow.
The growth of antlers is dependent upon the amount of daylight it receives. How so? Daylight helps the pituitary gland produce growth hormones, like testosterone and insulin-like growth factor (IGF), resulting in antler growth. These magical specimens grow anywhere from 0.25 inches (0.6 centimeters) and 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) per day, up to one pound per day.
Antlers serve another purpose in the wild. Many nutrients, such as calcium, phosphorus, and protein are needed to make bone and for animal growth. Other animals will gnaw on antlers for their nutritional value and to also wear down growing teeth. Antler sheds are vital for healthy habitats, which is why it’s illegal to go antler shed hunting in many places.
Social dominance, territory possession, and predator confrontations are the main purposes of horns to name a few. Other uses include courtship displays, feeding, and cooling. When feeding, animals sometimes use their horns to root in soil or to strip bark from trees.
Many horned animals begin growing their horns from birth and continue to grow their horns for the rest of their lives. Horns typically grow very quickly until the animal reaches full maturity, at which point, horn growth drastically slows down. Most horns have one point or twist but don’t branch out the way antlers do.
For every year that passes, a growth ring, called an annuli ring, is created in a horn. The number of rings in a horn is what determines the animal’s age. Keep in mind that there are always exceptions to every rule. Even in nature. Now that we’ve got the basics covered, let’s begin our countdown.
1. Animals With Antlers
1.1 Elk (Cervus elaphus canadensis)
Elk, or Wapiti, are mammals and found mainly in western North America, Eastern Asia, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, India, China, and parts of northern Africa. The size of a male, called a Bull Elk, varies depending on region, habitat, and earthly factors. They have been weighed anywhere between 240 and 1,100 pounds (109 and 499 kilograms).
Points are tines branching off the main beam of the antler that measure at least one inch (2.5 centimeters). Mature elks average six points on each antler, this includes the tallest part of its antler. Some have seven or more points. Antlers on elk can grow four feet above their heads.
All bull elk use a high-pitch call (bugle), during the rut (mating period). This call makes them the loudest member of the deer family. They can run 25 miles (40 kilometers) per hour and can live around 20 years. There are roughly two million populating the world.
1.2 Deer (Cervidae)
The name for a male deer is a Buck. They live in wetlands, deciduous forests, grasslands, rain forests, arid shrublands, mountains, and can be found all over the world except Antarctica and Australia. White-tail deer and mule deer are very similar in size, shape, and antler growth.
To determine what point grade a deer falls under, you would use the same method as for elk antlers. Simply count the tines that are branching off the main beam and are at least one inch (2.5 centimeters) in length. Deer antlers can grow over three feet (0.9 meters) in height.
Though deer don’t have great eyesight, they can run up to 30 miles (48 kilometers) an hour and have been recorded jumping upwards of 15 feet (4.6 meters). Additionally, they can weigh between 150 and 400 pounds (68 and 181 kilograms). There are 60 known species of deer in the world and an estimated 25-30 million deer.
1.3 Moose (Alces alces)
Male moose, like elk, are called bulls. They are the largest of the deer family and differ greatly in appearance. One of the distinctive features of moose is the dewlap, the dangling hairy bell-like under their face. Moose are found in Canada, Alaska, New England, New York State, Fennoscandia, the Baltic states, Poland, Kazakhstan, and Russia.
The size of a moose’s palm (the large part of its antler where points branch from) and the number of points grow each season until the antlers form a protective arch. Moose average between 771 and 400 pounds (350 and 181 kilograms). However, bulls can reach 8-10 feet (2.4 to 3 meters) tall, get up to 1,800 pounds (816 kilograms), and their antlers grow roughly six feet (1.8 meters).
Moose don’t see very well but are born natural swimmers and can run 35 miles (56 kilometers) per hour for short sprints. When they swim, they can close their nostrils and be completely submerged underwater for 30 seconds. The global population is believed to be about 1.5 million.
1.4 Caribou Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)
Guess what males are called? Bulls! In general, caribou are also called reindeer. Like the ones that fly Santa’s sleigh. These guys are also part of the deer family and are the only deer species where females also grow antlers.
Unlike most deer, caribou are only found in the Arctic tundra, Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, and Canada. Males reach almost four feet (1.2 meters) in height and can exceed 550 pounds (249 kilograms). Their antlers can grow 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) and have up to 44 points (13 meters). Female antlers grow a little of 1.5 feet (0.5 meters).
These wintery dwellers can run 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour. During their migration, caribou will travel almost 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) per year. It is the longest terrestrial migration on earth. Herd numbers get into the thousands. There are about five million Caribou in the wild. Sadly, their average lifespan in the wild is less than five years.
2. Animals With Horns
You’ll see by the list below that the number of animals with horns outweighs the number of animals with antlers. The reason is unknown. For the sake of not writing an entire book, we will be discussing the least popular animals with horns.
2.1 Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)
Bighorn Sheep males are known as rams and are related to antelopes, bison, buffalo, cattle, and goats. There are less than 70,000 of these sheep in North America. They are found living in the western regions of North America, southern Canada to Mexico and Canada. This is because they prefer mountainous habitats. Which explains their two-toed split hooves, which help with grip and balance.
Rams can grow five to six feet (1.8 meters) tall from head to tail, and weigh an average of between 262 and 300 pounds (119 and 136 kilograms). Some have been as heavy as 500 pounds (227 kilograms). The Bighorn Sheep found in the Rocky Mountains grows a set of horns that’s 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms), weighing more than all of the bones in their body.
Female Bighorn Sheep, called ewes, have much smaller horns that curve slightly to a sharp point. This occurs within the first four years of their life. Bighorns typically swallow their food, then regurgitate it later, chew it up more time before swallowing it again and keeping it down. Yum?
2.2 Texas Longhorn (Bos taurus taurus)
The Texas Longhorn has a very long history but we’ll stick to the fun facts. Originally called Spanish cattle, mustang cattle, or wild cattle, the familiar name was changed to the Texas longhorn after the American Civil War.
Longhorns first arrived in the Dominican Republic via Christopher Columbus’ ship. Somehow the Longhorns appeared in Central America. Eventually, Spanish settlers drove herds of Longhorn north over a few centuries. Sometime during the centuries, Longhorns went feral and ended up in Texas.
Records state that there are approximately 100,000 longhorns found in the Lonestar State and they are all domesticated. Bulls’ horns can measure seven or eight feet from tip to tip. A world-breaking longhorn’s horns measured at 10 feet (3 meters). They stand 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) tall, and their weight ranges from 800 to almost 2,000 pounds (363 to almost 907 kilograms). Approach with extreme caution or not at all.
2.3 The Goat (Capra aegagrus hircus)
When we mention goats in this section, we’re primarily speaking of the domesticated kind. Though the wild goat is almost identical in features, habitat, and life requirements. Male goats are called bucks or billys. These common farm creatures have horns that can grow 8 to 12 inches (0.2 to 0.3 centimeters).
Horns have a cooling system that serves as an air conditioner during hot temperatures. The horns help regulate internal temperature, which is why experts recommend against dehorning breeds. Without their horns, they can overheat.
Domestic goats are raised all over the world in almost every type of ecosystem. The key habitat necessities for a domestic goat are grass to eat and a clean, ventilated shelter. That’s a lot of grass and shelter for the one billion goats distributed worldwide.
2.4 Markhor (Capra falconeri)
The markhor is a goat species found in the mountains of Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. They are skilled climbers and can easily scale steep rocky terrain. Both sexes have spiraled horns. s grow five-foot (0.13 meters) horns and females grow horns of roughly two feet (0.6 meters).
They use their horns to dig for food and to remove bark from trees. This is the largest known goat in the world and tends to have an unpleasant odor. They can get between 71 and 240 pounds (32 and 109 kilograms), roughly. With less than 2,500 Markhors left in their native region and fewer than 10,000 in the entire world, they have been classified as an endangered species.
2.5 Saiga (Saiga tatarica)
Look at that face! It’s irrefutable that the Saiga, part of the antelope family, has an interesting look. Their oddly-shaped nose helps filter out dust kicked up by other animals.
The saiga stands 24 to 32 inches (61 to 81 centimeters) at the shoulder, weighs 57 to 152 pounds (26 to 69 kilograms), and only males possess horns. These thick horns measure 8 to 15 inches (20 to 38 centimeters) in length depending on the antelope’s region.
Unfortunately, after being hunted to extinction in Poland, China, and Mongolia, it now only thrives in southwestern Russia and Kazakhstan. A study in 2005 totaled the population to 124,000 and quickly plummeted. Their species is in grave danger as they continue to be hunted for their horns, which are believed to have medicinal benefits.
2.6 Ibex (Capra ibex)
Commonly found only in the mountains of Europe, Asia, and northeastern Africa, the wild ibex, with its impressive horns, can weigh between 110 and 220 pounds (50 and 100 kilograms). The horns on a male ibex can grow 28 to 55 inches (71 to 140 centimeters) in length. Female horns are smaller, thinner, and curve slightly more backward.
An ibex can run as fast as 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour, jump six feet (1.8 meters) high, and scale mountains and cliffs like they were flat surfaces. There are eight known species of ibex, with the Nubian ibex having the longest horns. The species are Iberian ibex, Alpine ibex, Siberian ibex, Bezoar ibex, Walia ibex, West Caucasian tur, East Caucasian tur, and Nubian ibex. It is believed that the total number of ibexes roaming the world is about 19,000.
2.7 Bharal (Pseudois nayaur)
Bharals are more closely related to goats than to sheep. They are also called Blue Sheep. Why? No one knows because they are neither blue nor sheep. Depending on the sex, they will weigh between 80 and 165 pounds (36 and 75 kilograms).
Both sexes have horns, with the males’ horns growing more than 20 inches (51 centimeters). Much bigger than the females’ horns. You’re going to have to travel to India, Bhutan, China, Myanmar, Nepal, or Pakistan to see one of 30,000 remaining in the world.
2.8 Addax (Addax nasomaculatus)
The Addax is the only antelope species where both males and females have horns of the same size. Horns grow 30 to 43 inches (76 to 109 centimeters) long, but a female’s horns are slightly lighter in weight. Male addaxes weigh between 220 and 300 pounds (100 and 136 kilograms), while females weigh between 132 to 275 pounds (60 to 125 kilograms).
You can find this native of the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, Niger, and Chad. With only roughly 500 in the wild, the Addax is one of the most critically endangered mammals in the world. Its closest relative is the Oryx.
2.9 Scimitar-Horned Oryx (Oryx dammah)
The Scimitar-Horned Oryx is found in Africa’s dry plains and deserts, as well as in the Arabian Peninsula. They are one of three large antelopes also referred to as gemsbok. The male and female scimitar-horned oryx have long, thin horns that curve backward. Their horns are hollow but tough bones. They can grow to be between four and almost eight feet in length.
When threatened, they stand sideways to appear larger. If this fails to intimidate the enemy, they use their horns to defend or attack. These animals can go for several days without drinking water. A great adaptation considering they are desert dwellers. The bad news is that despite conservation efforts, there are no more than 1,800 left in the world.
2.10 Mouflon (Ovis gmelini)
Mouflon are native to Corsica, Sardinia, and Cyprus but can also be found in parts of Europe and Austria. Both sexes have horns but the males’ 25-inch (63.5 centimeters) horns are larger. Males weigh between 80 and 130 pounds (36 and 59 kilograms), while females weigh 60 to 80 pounds (27 to 36 kilograms).
These sheep have no leaders in their herd nor do they initiate aggressive behavior. Unlike most sheep, Mouflons are nocturnal (active at night). Their numbers dropped from 90,000 to 60,000 in just a few years. Due to their rapidly declining status, Mouflons have been given a vulnerable status.
2.11 Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)
Wildebeests can weigh 300 to 600 pounds (136 to 272 kilograms), measure between five and eight feet (1.5 and 2.4 meters) in length, males and females possess horns. The horns on males are 33 inches (84 centimeters) and the female’s horns are 12 to 16 inches (30.5 to 41 centimeters). They’ve been clocked running up to 40 miles (64 kilometers) per hour and are known to be intelligent and playful animals.
A couple of other interesting things to note about wildebeest is that there are only two species of wildebeest, they live in massive herds, and females only give birth to one offspring. Unlike other animals, the wildebeest population seems to be stable, for now, at 1,500,000.
2.12 Bison (Bison Bison)
Bison are generally called Buffalo, but there is a distinct difference between the two. Cape buffalo and water buffalo are native to Africa and Asia and are old-world buffaloes. Bison are found in North America and Europe.
Bison are the largest mammal in North America. A bull stands almost seven feet (2 meters) at the shoulder and weighs almost 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms). Females are about five feet (1.5 meters) and weigh about 700 pounds (317.5 kilograms). Though they weigh a lot, they can run about 35 miles (56 kilometers) per hour.
Both Bison sexes bear short, upcurved horns, those of the cow being smaller. Bison have been living in Yellowstone National Park since prehistoric times. These intimidating animals wallow (roll around) on dirt to deter flies, help shed fur, leave behind their scent, and show off their strength.
Pure breeds of Bison are difficult to find. It is estimated that as few as 12,000 to maybe 15,000 remain in the world and not all of them are wild.
3. Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana)
We’ll end our animals with horns and antlers with the Pronghorn Antelope for very good reasons. The number one reason is that Pronghorn Antelopes have a hybrid of horns and antlers. This species has made an unbelievable comeback with numbers between 500,000 and 1,000,000. Seems as if they’re going to be okay. For now.
Remember that antlers are made of bone, have several points, and are shed yearly, while horns are made of keratin, only have one point, tend to be on the curvey side, and are never shed. Pronghorn Antelopes technically don’t have either. The sheath is made of keratin but is shed every year.
To keep things simple, we’ll refer to them as horns. Both the buck and doe have horns. Male Pronghorn Antelope horns can grow to be 10 inches (25 centimeters) and have two points. The horns is 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 centimeters) long. These are indigenous to North America, ranging from southern Canada to northern Mexico.
4. Honorable Mentions
As you can tell, there are so many animals with horns and antlers, it’s impossible to cover them all. Here are a few that deserve acknowledgments.
4.1 Common Eland (Taurotragus oryx)
Estimated population 136,000.
4.2 Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)
The population is 482,000, including 15% in protected areas and 61 % on private land.
4.3 Rhinocerous (Rhinocerotidae)
The Rhino population is unclear due to its rapid decline, latest studies claim there are 27,000 rhinos left in the world, including the ones at zoos.
4.4 Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis)
Springboks are thriving at around 2,000,000 antelopes.
4.5 Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii)
Though their population is not a large concern, the Sitatunga population is decreasing.
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Poaching Horns and Antlers
Due to the dramatic decline of so many animals, poaching them for their horns is illegal in many places around the world. If someone is caught poaching, a hefty fine and a great possibility of imprisonment will ensue.
The majority of animals are endangered due to negative human interference. All animals whether wild or domesticated can be unpredictable. Be respectful and admire from a safe distance. Oftentimes, both humans and animals pay the ultimate price. Let’s share the space and appreciate each other for what we are.