Difference Between Horns and Antlers (With Table)

Animals have been a subject matter of interest to us for time immemorial now. Whether it is the way they can be used to ease the human burden or just out of curiosity, we have all indulged in our fair share of discussions about animals. Despite the common interest, we almost always end up confusing antlers with horns.

Horns vs Antlers

The difference between Horns and Antlers is that while both are two types of parts of an animal’s head (it is an extension of their skull), the former is an extension that is bony and grows all through the animal’s life. However, the latter grows to its full extent, following which the animal sheds it only to regrow another pair every year.

Horns are more common. These are the extensions of the animal’s skull that keep growing all through its life. It’s bony and covered by a sheath. Though the animal does not shed its horns, it certainly sheds its sheath every year. They grow from the animal’s hair follicles that harden up to take a defined shape.

On the other hand, Antlers are only common in a certain family of animals, that is, the Cervidae family. In other words, they are more common in deer and animals that fall in the same family. These are extensions of the animal’s skull too, but they shed it every year and grow a new pair.

Comparison Table Between Horns and Antlers

Parameters of ComparisonHornsAntlers
Frequency of SheddingOnce the animal develops these extensions, the extensions grow throughout its life.They grow these extensions every year
GenderBoth males, as well as female animals, can grow a pairThese grow in the male animals only
Way to IdentifyThe animal has a pair of unbranched extensions on its head that is either long or short and coiled.It is easier to be identified as the extensions resemble the branches of a tree.
Way of GrowingThey grow from the animal’s hair folliclesThey grow on the animal’s head, where the water retainment and protein content are quite high, along with a hair-like covering what guards the nerves and other blood vessels.
Animals that have themSheepDeer

What are Horns?

They can be defined as the extensions on the animal’s skull that protrude from its head and serve various purposes. These extensions grow all through the life span of the animal. They are made of bones but are covered by sheaths. What is interesting is that even though they do not shed their horns, these animals shed their sheath every year.

The purpose that they serve is evident by their sturdy appearance- the animals use their horns to mark their territorial limits by threatening those who challenge them. The length and the girth of the horns are not only a sign of their maturity but also their strength.

The appearance of the horns distinguishes it clearly from antlers. They are unbranched extensions on the animal’s head that are either long or short and coiled. On a closer glance, you can notice prominent ridges on the horns that give them a unique look. It isn’t velvety and suave-looking as antlers, but it can scare you off with its strong and intimidating appearance. It is a given that if a bison charges at you, the first thing that will intimidate you will most certainly be its humungous curlicued horns.

What are Antlers?

They can be defined as the extensions of an animal’s skull. Antlers are only common in a certain family of animals, that is, the Cervidae family. In other words, they are more common in deer and animals that fall in the same family.

These extensions of the animal’s skull grow and then, break off following which they grow a new pair of it. This process repeats every year. The purpose of it is much different from the purpose that horns serve. They are key to attract mates during the mating season. A fascinating aspect about antlers is that only male animals can grow a pair. They flaunt it with pride to win over their mate.

They appear like the branches of a tree that sprouted from the main trunk. They grow on the animal’s head, where the water retainment and protein content are quite high, along with a hair-like covering what guards the nerves and other blood vessels. Therefore, even though the antlers appear very strong and intimidating, they can break off quite easily as it isn’t made of bones like in the case of horns, but protein, and bone marrow.

The next time you spot a pronghorn, make sure you look out for its beautifully branched, velvety antlers. 

Main Differences Between Horns and Antlers

  1. While Horns can be defined as the extensions of the animal’s skull that grow for the entire lifespan of the animal, Antlers can be defined as the extensions of the animal’s skull that grow and shed off and regrow.
  2. Both males and females can grow a pair of horns. In contrast, only male animals can grow a pair of Antlers. The females only have ears.
  3. The purpose that a pair of Horns serve is to enable the animal to successfully defend its territory by intimidating those who challenge it. Also, it indicates the strength and power of the animal. On the other hand, Antlers serve the purpose of attracting the opposite gender by parading with it during the mating season.
  4. Horns, contrary to most belief, are the hair follicles of the animals that take a sturdy bone-like shape and are covered with a coating that is rich in keratin. However, Antlers, though sturdy and bone-like to look at, are much spongier as it is filled with bone marrow, blood vessels, nerves, and protein. 
  5. Horns are useful and of utmost importance to the animals that possess them all through their life, whereas, Antlers are of importance, particularly during the mating seasons.

Conclusion

Every animal has some feature that is unique to them. They fascinate us, but we are not always aware of their anatomy and the names of their body parts. The confusion between the terms ‘Horns’ and ‘Antlers’ is way more than we would expect it to be. While both are two types of parts of an animal’s head, the former is an extension that is bony and grows all through the animal’s life. However, the latter grows to its full extent, following which the animal sheds it only to regrow another pair every year.

Horns are more common. These are the extensions of the animal’s skull that keep growing all through its life. On the other hand, Antlers are only common in a certain family of animals, that is, the Cervidae family. The appearance of the two differ greatly as well- while the former is unbranched, the latter is branched. This key difference makes it a little less tedious for us to recognize the difference between the two.

References

  1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24926338
  2. https://www.proquest.com/openview/988b55e1da7c6c0dd1b95cfc74063cbf/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=29772
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