Antlers and Horns
Deer gun season just ended, and of course for many hunters the most sought after trophies are the antlers of members of the deer family. A lot of bragging rights are on the line during deer season, and it is all about antlers! But please don’t call them horns. Although some people use the terms interchangeably, horns are fundamentally different than antlers.
As most everyone knows, antlers are produced by males of the deer family. However, female caribou also produce antlers, but antlers are rare in other members of the deer family. Antlers are composed of bony material, generally branched, and are shed each year. While the antlers are growing, they are covered with a layer of skin and soft hairs called velvet which brings blood and nutrients to the developing antler. When the antler is mature growth stops, the velvet is shed, and what is left is a dead bony mass of material.
Horns on the other hand, are produced by bovids. Familiar members of the bovid family include cattle, bison, goats, and bighorn sheep. Horns consist of a bony core and an outer sheath made of keratin-like material similar to fingernails or agglutinated hairs. Horns grow from the base and the growth generally continues throughout the life of the animal. Plus, although there is one exception, horns do not branch.
That exception is the pronghorn antelope. The pronghorn is the only member of the antelope family that is native to North America. Unlike most horns, the pronghorn produces horns with a covering of hairs, is slightly branched, and the sheath of the horn is shed each year.
The casual observer may not notice it, but the antlers of whitetail deer and mule deer are fundamentally different. The antlers of mule deer fork as they grow. The growth form is sometimes referred to as bifurcated.
The antlers of a whitetail deer, on the other hand, have a main beam with branches roughly pointed upwards. The tips of those branches or tines are the “points” that are so frequently used to describe the antler or rack.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
Listen To Radio Online
Log-on and dig deep into the news of the day. It’s all online in our Public NewsRoom.» Visit the Public NewsRoom
Your contributions make quality radio programming possible.» Pledge your support today.