Horns & Antlers

HORNS Animal horns come in all shapes and sizes. They are possessed by males and sometimes females, depending on the species. They have a core made of bone that is attached to their skull with a cover made of keratin, which is the same material as human hair or fingernails. Animals use their horns to defend against predators. If an animal’s horn is broken or damaged, it will remain that way forever. It does not grow back. Horns are permanent; they are not shed, but grow with the animal throughout its lifespan. (The Kudu antelope to the furthest left of this post's cover photo has horns.)

UNIQUE HORNS Rhinoceroses are the only mammal with a horn on its nose, which continuously grows throughout their lifespan. Rhinoceros horns are missing the bony core, but like other horns, consist of strictly stainds of matted keratin. Giraffes’ horns, or ossicones, have a bony core, but do not have a keratin sheath. Instead of the keratin sheath, the ossicones are covered by a thin layer of hair. (There are photos of both Giraffe and Rhino in this post's cover photo.)

ANTLERS Animal antlers come in all shapes and sizes, and they have branches and points. Like horns, they are also used for protection. Unlike horns, only male deer species at the Wildlife Ranch grow antlers, and they shed and grow back each year. Antlers are not permanent. Antlers begin growing as cartilage, covered by hairy skin referred to as velvet. Coinciding with rut or breeding season, the hormone change in male species will cause the cartilage in the antlers to turn into bone. This process is called ossification. Once antlers have turned to bone, the velvet will dry and fall off the antlers. Months later, the animal will shed their antlers. Animals will only be without their antlers for a few weeks before the process starts again. A deer’s age cannot be determined by the size or number of points it carries on its antlers. Caribou are the only animal species where both the male and female have antlers. (The Barasingha deer to the furthest right of this post's cover photo has antlers.)

Click here for a Horns vs. Antlers Video Explanation from an NBWR Animal Specialist.