Whenever humans come across animals with distinguishing features, there is something almost magical about it. This is true with animals with antlers. Here, we’ll examine what are antlers, which animals have them, and just what is the purpose of them.
Animals with antlers: Antlers are an extremely important part of an animal’s physiology. They are there to protect the herd from predators and to help in the selection of a mate. Animals with antlers all belong to the Cervidae family. This includes common types of deer, along with moose and reindeer. Each spring these antlers begin to grow and by summer they are full-size. However, each winter they fall off and the cycle begins all again. For the most part, it is only males of the species that have antlers. The exception is reindeer, where females also have antlers, although they are usually smaller in size. Without antlers, deer would not be able to defend themselves from predators such as wolves. Furthermore, antlers play an important role in mating. Males will fight each other to show their dominance and physical prowess. The size of antlers is also important as females will use this reference to see which animal has the best genetic composition. Antlers take a lot of nutritional resources to grow, which is why for the most part, they are shed during the leaner winter months.
What are antlers made of?
If you thought that antlers are made of bone, you are correct. Antlers are hard structures that protrude from an animal’s head. They are made from bone, nerves, blood vessels, fibrous tissues, and skin.
For the most part, only male animals of a species have antlers. However, the exception is reindeer, also known as caribou, in which both the males and females grow antlers.
What is perhaps the most amazing aspect of antlers is that, while they grow from the skull of an antler, animals actually shed them every year.
Yes, antlers grow in the spring, are shed in the fall, and then the whole process begins again the next year. This is why if you see animals in the winter, it can be hard to tell if they are male or female.
Are antlers horns?
Despite the fact that antlers and horns are made out of similar materials, they are actually different. Horns usually only have two parts to them, bone and cartilage.
Furthermore, horns are permanent and keep growing the whole life of an animal. Antlers, as we previously discussed, are shed every year and then regrown.
What’s the purpose of antlers in animals?
During the fall, the rutting, or mating, the season of deer takes place. This is when female deer decide who to mate with. Antlers play a huge importance in the selection of who a female deer will mate with.
To begin with, male deer will fight each other, using their antlers in a bid to show their dominance. Forests can be quite noisy during this period as male deer will charge at each other, sometimes locking their antlers with each other.
The victor of these fights is shown as more physically superior to the other.
Continuing with their mating process, male deer will show off their large antler size to prospective female deer. Those with larger antlers will have a much better success rate.
Deer are prey, not predators. They survive on vegetation and need to constantly be on guard for predators.
Wolves in particular will use their pack method to surround deer and take down the weakest links. In this case, antlers are imperative as a means for protection.
Indeed, while most groups of deer will shed their antlers during winter, some groups will retain their antlers as a means of protection. This is especially the case in areas where there are large wolf populations.
Deer do not hibernate and instead must forage for food all year long. As most deer live in snowy areas, it can be hard to find vegetation to sustain their population.
Antlers serve a very important function in the winter. They are actually used to remove snow from the ground and around trees in order to find suitable vegetation.
This is especially helpful with reindeer who live in more northern climates. It might also be a reason why female reindeer don’t shed their antlers in the winter, so they can feed their calves
Deer species need to use all of their senses to detect prey. This is why they have such large ears and eyes on the sides of their heads.
Another way to help detect intruders is by using their antlers. Moose have especially large antlers, and they can actually help focus sound waves into their ears.
Different Animals with Antlers
Perhaps the most common animal that has antlers, deer are found all over the world. These animals make up the Cervidae family.
There are many types of deer but the most common in North America include mule deer, white-tailed deer, and sika deer. Within these species, the male animals all grow antlers.
Common species of deer have smaller, pronged antlers. Most hunters use this method to determine how old a deer is, as every year they will grow larger antlers with more points.
A three-year-old male deer will have about seven antler points.
As for size, it is measured in a spread, which means from the tip of the right antler to the tip of the left. This spread size can range from 3 inches to 25 inches, depending on how old the deer is.
Only male deer have antlers. There is a rare chance that a female deer will have antlers, but this is from a genetic condition that does not happen often.
Even though we commonly think of reindeer in relation to Santa Claus, they are in fact real animals. Reindeer are also known as caribou, which can make it slightly confusing as people sometimes think they are two different animals.
What is really unique about reindeer is that both males and females of the species grow antlers. This is very uncommon as almost all other deer species are male-only when it comes to antlers.
Reindeer can be found in the northern areas of Canada, Europe, and Siberia. While some populations are sedentary, others are migratory and it is quite amazing to see these large animals trek great distances.
Every spring male reindeer will grow their antlers but this is not always the case for females. Their growth is dependent on population size and location.
Male reindeer will start growing their antlers in March while females don’t grow them until May. Then, in August male reindeer will start to lose their antlers while females will keep theirs until they give birth to calves.
Interestingly, reindeer antlers have a lot to do with ranking. During the winter, female reindeer with antlers have the best grazing area and get the most food.
Furthermore, female reindeer with antlers get better food for their calves. Calves, or baby reindeer, whose mothers do not have antlers, are more prone to disease.
Overall, it takes a lot of extra nutrition to grow antlers, which is perhaps why those animals with antlers get better food.
Finally, reindeer antlers have velvet skin on them that begins to shed during the summer. Their antlers can be 3 feet long in length.
Moose live in North America. It can be confusing, but the same animal is found in Eurasia but is called elk. So, moose and elk are the same animals.
Moose are incredibly large, and so too are their antlers. This is not an animal you want to get close to.
Moose have a wider part of their antlers that then divides into tines, or points. These antlers can grow to be over 6 feet long. Furthermore, they can weigh up to 70 pounds.
The main use of moose antlers is for mating. The larger the antlers, the greater the chance that a female moose will mate with the animal.
Antlers are also used to fight prospective males. This happens during the fall, which is rutting season, and the impact of moose antlers hitting each other is quite loud.
Because it takes so much energy to grow their antlers, they are shed during the winter months. Then, in the spring, they will start to grow again.
Are deer the only animals with antlers?
Deer belong to the Cervidae family, and this is the only grouping of animals that have antlers. Within the Cervidae family are many animals, such as species of deer, moose, and reindeer, that all have antlers.
While you may think there are other animals that have antlers, such as antelope, these are actually horns. Horns are made of thicker bone and cartilage and do not stop growing as the animal ages.
Antlers grow from the skull of an animal and are made from a combination of bone, blood vessels, and tissue. They fall off in the fall and are regrown in the spring. While it might seem like a lot of animals have antlers, only those that belong to the Cervidae family, such as deer, moose, and reindeer, have antlers.