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Horns Galore

Horns galore

Ungulate mammals are animals that walk on the tips of their toes, which are covered in a hard thick hoof. They can also have different types of head ornamentation, including horns, antlers, or ossicones. The animals use these “horns” for display communication with each other, to defend themselves against predators, and in combat between males of a species.

The skulls shown here are part of the museum’s Recent vertebrate collection. Look for the nilgai, sable antelope, hirola, and gazelle skulls. These animals all have true horns. True horns have a bony core that grows from the skull bones. True horns are covered by an outer layer of keratinized skin called the sheath. Since true horns grow from the skull, these animals do not shed their horns during life. You might be familiar with other animals that have true horns like antelopes, gazelle, cattle, and sheep.

Pronghorns have horns that are similar to true horns, with a solid bony horn core and sheath. In males, part of the sheath extends forward from the head, like a “prong.” The sheath is shed and re-grown every year. The knobs on a giraffe’s skull are not even horns at all. They are called ossicones, and are separate bony deposits that are fused to the skull bones. These knobs develop and grow in older giraffes. Scientists think they help protect the skull when male giraffes use their heads as weapons during combat. The black rhinoceros’ “horn” is not a true horn, either. The “horn” itself is a mass of skin cells cemented together with thick, hair-like keratin fibers. The black rhinoceros is an endangered species, primarily as a result of illegal poaching for their horn. There are only about 3100 individuals surviving in the wilds of Africa.

Black rhinoceros
Diceros bicornis
TMM M-1839
Lives in reserves in Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Wild populations may be in several other African countries.

Nilgai
Boselaphus tragocamelus
TMM M-7497
Lives in India and eastern Pakistan; introduced and now free-ranging in Texas.

Giraffe
Giraffa camelopardalis
TMM M-6815
Lives in sub-Saharan Africa, primarily in the eastern and southern region.

Sable antelope
Hippotragus niger
TMM M-6816
Lives from southeast Kenya to northern South Africa, west to Botswana and Angola.

Hirola or Hunter’s hartebeest
Damaliscus hunteri
TMM M-6821
Lives from southern Somalia to northern Kenya.

Mountain gazelle
Gazella gazelle
TMM M-4153
Lives in Syria, Israel, Lebanon, the Arabian Peninsula.

Pronghorn
Antilocapra americana
TMM M-5394
Lives in Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, western US, Baja California, western Sonora.