Horns versus Antlers?

We all enjoy watching wildlife especially those with horns and antlers.  But have you ever really thought about which is what?  Horns?  Antlers?  What’s the difference?  Horns are permanent where antlers are shed annually.

For example, this Big Horn Sheep is a male with a really big set of horns.  They are never shed and it takes as long as 11 years for the full curl to happen.  So, he has to carry that load around for a long time.  Female sheep have horns too but much smaller.  Horns are made of the same material as our fingernails.

Big Horn Sheep (male)

Big Horn Sheep (male)

Antlers, on the other hand, are typically shed every year.  Deer, moose, and elk, all in the deer family,  are among those that shed their antlers every year.  They only need their antlers to show their strength and protect themselves when looking for a mate.  They grow back each year and are often covered in velvet, hence the term, “elk in velvet” in spring as shown in this photo.  The antlers are tender during the velvet stage so it’s not a good time for sparring with others.  As fall approaches the velvet is shed and the antlers mature just in time for the mating season.  That’s when everyone wants a photo but remember patience is wearing thin at this stage and these guys can be a bit unpredictable.

"Elk in Velvet"

“Elk in Velvet”

Test your knowledge:  Which animal has horns but still sheds them each year?  Answer in next weeks post!

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