Horns and antlers are unique tools used by animals to defend themselves and their territories, fight off predators, and impress mates. But what’s the difference?
Horns have a bone core and are covered by a keratin sheath. Like how a pen cap protects the tip of a pen. Keratin is the same material that our hair and fingernails are made of! Animals with horns have them their entire lives, and the horns will grow as the animals age. Goats, cows, and bison are all animals that have horns. Take a look at this bison horn from our collections. Notice how horns are a singular shape that do not fork, separate or branch (like deer antlers). Horns are sturdy and permanent, and they are great tools for fighting and rooting through vegetation.
Unlike horns, antlers are completely bone and are grown and shed, usually with the seasons. While horns will grow on both male and female animals, but in general, antlers are often grown by just males. Each spring animals like moose, deer, elk, and caribou will begin to grow a new pair of antlers from two spots on top of the head called pedicles. As the antlers grow, they are covered by a nourishing skin called velvet due to its short, soft hairs. Antlers are some of the fastest growing tissues for an animal and take an enormous amount of energy to produce! Notice how antlers have unique points, called tines, and separate into branches like a tree. Antlers are excellent tools to fight off rivals and impress mates!