Horns? Antlers? What’s what?

This post written by Memory Mays

If you have recently visited the Houston Zoo, you may have seen some of our baby antelope who are beginning to grow horns.

Surprisingly, horns have several important purposes that not only affect the species’ behavior, but also help them to obtain food, regulate body temperature, and for some species, get the ladies. No animal is born with a full set of horns. It takes time to grow them and for most species horn buds do not appear until they are several months old.

As a horn grows, it develops a system of blood vessels on the interior. This is one feature that makes horns different from antlers. Where horns have blood flowing through the horn, antlers have blood flowing through a skin called “velvet” that covers the bone. Once the antler is fully grown the velvet is shed and leaves the bony structure behind as a mature antler.

Since there is no blood or vital organs found in a mature antler, it is common for the antler to fall off and regrow. Horns, however, cannot regrow. Once a horn breaks off it will remain that way for the rest of the animal’s life.  Antlers also differ from horns because they can develop a shape that resembles branches. Horns do not develop a branch shape. In some species they grow straight or have a slight curve like our Yellow-Backed Duikers. In several other species, horns may form spiral and corkscrew shapes like in our Bongo, Greater Kudu, Giant Eland, and Nyala . On your next visit to the Houston Zoo, stop by to see the different types of horns on some of our antelopes!

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