Many animals have bony structures on their heads, sometimes with a defense function against their predators, others as an indispensable element in the rituals of confrontation between members of the same species. It is about the horns or antlers.
We can find animals with horns large or small, long or short, spiral-shaped or pointed, even with branches. It is one more element in animals that humans can admire to understand that wildlife biodiversity will never cease to amaze us.
What are horns or antlers
The horns are bony structures that are born as extensions of the frontal bone, in the area of the forehead and upper part of the head. They appear only and exclusively in vertebrate animals , and mostly in mammals, although they can also be seen in other animals such as reptiles that have similar keratin structures. Normally, the horns are pointed in shape and surrounded by a layer of keratin or skin with fine fur, which constitutes a corneal sheath of resistance.
It is important to know that there are other animals with similar structures but not made of bone material, but mainly of hardened keratin, so they are not considered horns themselves. These are the antlers that cervids have (a family of ruminant mammals to which deer, elk, roe deer and reindeer belong, among others, and which can be seen in the image below). Another big difference with the horns or antlers of bovids is that deer shed their antlers every year or only during their youth, depending on the species, and bovids have them permanently.
Horned animals of Africa
We start with a list of the horned animals of Africa :
- The Ankole-Watusi ( Bos Taurus africanus) has the largest antler of all cattle breeds, reaching over a meter and a half in length and weighing up to 50 kilos.
- Within the group of antelopes we find the greater kudú ( Tragelaphus strepsiceros ) . Only males have curved V horns with two or three spiral turns, reaching 1.25 meters in length.
- In the Sahara desert we find the addax ( Addax nasomaculatus ) , whose horns grow vertically and twist on themselves in a spiral shape, with a marked ringing.
- The white oryx ( Oryx dammah ) has striking horns that curve backwards in the shape of a scimitar (saber with a long curved blade native to the Middle East).
- The sable antelope ( Hippotragus niger ) has powerful horns that allow it to fight its predators, charging them with its antlers.
- The famous Grant’s gazelle ( Nanger granti ) , large and with fine horns (somewhat longer in males than in females), lives exclusively in East Africa.
- Less well known is the common tsessebe ( Damaliscus lunatus ) whose horns of both sexes have a short open spiral.
- The Jackson’s chameleon ( Trioceros jacksonii ) , we include it in this list because it is a curious reptile from Africa, although its three horns are not considered as such as they are not like those of the bovidae, but they are commonly known that way.
Probably many of us think of the giraffe as one of the most characteristic horned animals in Africa. However, it is important to clarify that the “horns” of the giraffe are actually osiconos , prominences that are formed from ossified cartilage and covered with skin, fused with the parietal bones of the skull.
We continue this list with the horned animals in Europe , mentioning the main ones:
- The common European mouflon ( Ovis orientalis musimon ) lives in the mountainous areas of Europe. Males have larger horns than females and curve on both sides of their heads.
- The European bison ( Bison bonasus ) is the largest mammal in Europe. Both sexes have short, thick, upward-facing horns.
- The chamois ( Rupicapra rupicabra ) is present in mountain ranges in Europe. Its antlers are born upwards and curved strongly backwards, acquiring the shape of a hook.
- Also known as the wild mountain goat ( Capra ibex ), the ibex lives exclusively in the Alps and has long horns that curve backwards.
Horned animals of Asia
To finish, we mention several of the animals with horns or antlers that are in Asia :
- The Indian water buffalo has flattened horns that curve backwards, with widely spaced tips, reaching 1.2 meters apart.
- Also native to Asia, the gaur has fairly short horns with a black tip, arching upward.
- Among the domestic livestock animals the zebu stands out in Asia , with short horns, floppy ears and a pronounced hump.
- In the forests of India it is common to find the nilgo . Only males have short, straight horns, about 15-24 centimeters.
- The saola lives in the mountains between Vietnam and Laos. It has a long, slender and almost straight antler.
- In a geographical area close to the saola species, we find the kuprey that inhabits the jungles of Cambodia. Males have spiral horns, while those of females are long and curved forward.
- In the cold deserts of Central Asia we find the yak. They have long horns, one meter in length, bent upward and somewhat inward.