Unless you are a child, you probably haven’t thought too much about horned animals but if you stop and think about it, they are pretty amazing. There are more animals with horns than you might think and while this list is by no means exhaustive, it’s a good start at classifying them.
Types of animals with horns: Animals with horns are pretty cool. They serve two main purposes: mating with females of the same species and protecting their territory. During the mating process, it is usually the male animal that needs to prove himself worthy to a female. This process includes having larger horns as well as fighting other males to show their superiority. Almost all animals with horns are herbivores and are therefore at risk of carnivore predators. Horns are an important defense and can be used to fight off an attacker. Horns are also used to fight other males of the same species for habitat and food. The inside of a horn includes a small piece of bone and is attached to the skull. A protein called keratin then makes up the remaining part of the area and is usually covered in a layer of skin. Horns start growing from birth and remain growing until death. There are many species of animals that have horns or similar structures, such as deer, goats, and rhinoceros.
What are horns made of?
Animal horns are incredibly unique and are made up of different materials. Since humans don’t have horns, it’s hard at first for us to understand how they are made.
At the core of an animal, a horn is a living bone. This starts growing at birth, similar to the other bones in an animal. It actually keeps growing for the rest of an animal’s life.
Surrounding the small inner bone is a covering of proteins, including the important keratin. Keratin is very strong but not as strong as bones.
Interestingly, humans have many parts of their bodies that are made up of keratin. This includes our hair and nails. In animals, keratin is important in the makeup of feathers, claws, and hooves.
While horns are only present in males in most species, there are some species where both males and females have them.
Finally, horns usually grow in a spiral or curved shape. They often grow attached to the rest of the skeleton and protrude through the skin.
What’s the purpose of horns in animals?
During the mating process, male animals need to do everything they can to convince a female to mate with them. Many male animals have sex-selective characteristics for this purpose, such as bright feathers in birds and horns in animals.
Larger horns are a sign of evolutionary prowess and will attract more females. As a result, animals with large horns generally pass these genes on to the next generations.
Almost all animals with horns are herbivores, which means they eat vegetation. As a result, they are prime targets for meat-eaters or carnivores.
Generally speaking, carnivores are stronger and fiercer so herbivores need more natural defenses, including horns.
Horns allow animals to ward off predators. They also are a tool used by males of the same species when fighting for habitat or the attention of female animals.
There are, however, some female animals with horns. Generally, these are taller animals that are not able to camouflage themselves and so need an extra layer of protection.
Different Animals with Horns
While we may have an image of a large male bull with a horn, female cows also have horns, although they are smaller in size.
Cattle horns are attached to the skin and have a bony core that is surrounded by keratin. Interestingly, these horns don’t stop growing their whole life, although growth does slow down over time.
Not all cattle breeds have horns. Texas Longhorns and Scottish Highland cattle are the more common occurrences.
Furthermore, many farmers remove the horns from their cattle at an early age in order to prevent injury among the animals. However, this can be a painful process.
Instead, farmers now try to use the process of de-budding, which cauterizes the bone bud at an early age in the cow, before the horns start to grow.
Atop a giraffe’s head are small horns, so small you may forget they actually have them. They are covered in skin and have small tufts of hair on the top. Both male and female giraffes have these.
In actuality, the horns on giraffes are called ossicones. Instead of bone, they are made from hard cartilage with a layer of skin.
Unlike other animals, these ossicones are not attached to the skull at birth. Instead, they gradually fuse with the skull bone over time.
Depending on the species, the number of horns a rhino has will vary.
African and Sumatran rhinos have two horns, one larger one at the front and one smaller one behind it. Both are on the rhino’s snout. In contrast, Indian and Java rhinoceros only have a single horn.
For the most part, keratin is the major component of rhino horns. The horns on a rhino will continuously grow and can end up being over 3 feet tall.
Interestingly, rhinos can actually regrow their horns. While poaching is illegal, there is a new push to dehorn rhinos on an annual basis in order to deter poaching and allow the rhinos to grow new but shorter horns that are therefore less valuable.
While we often forget these small lizards, a type of chameleon, called Jackson’s chameleons, does indeed have horns on their head. Males have three horns on their heads, with the lower middle one more pronounced.
Chameleons use these horns to defend their territory. The two males can lock their horns with the victor staying on a branch and the loser falling to its demise.
While there are many breeds of goats, almost all of them have horns. They are also very different shapes, depending on their breeds. Both male and female goats have horns.
Ibex goats have very distinct-looking horns. These animals live in mountainous areas of Europe, Northeastern Africa, and Asia.
Male ibexes have horns that grow back from their heads but if left to be, they can start to curl on each other, creating a spiral effect. Furthermore, their horns can have ridges on them which make for a very sturdy defense.
In contrast, female ibex horns are much smaller and generally don’t curve back.
The more common billy goats are found on farms around the country. These animals are smaller, as are their horns.
Male billy goats have horns that curve slightly but nowhere near as much as other breeds. Female billy goats also have horns but they are smaller in size.
Perhaps one of the most famous breeds of sheep is the bighorn sheep. These animals are native to North America and their horns are simply massive.
Their horns are in a curved arc and together both horns on an adult male can weigh up to 30 pounds.
While female bighorn sheep also have horns, they are much smaller. Generally, their horns are small and pointy and do not have the pronounced curve that males have.
What animals have straight horns?
Horns come in all shapes and sizes but some are indeed straight. The oryx is a species of antelope and they are native to Africa and the Arabian peninsula.
Both males and females of the species have long, straight horns. They can grow to be 4 to 7 feet tall.
As a result of their horn shape, oryx have often been nicknamed ‘spear antelope’.
Oryx use their horns to ward away predators as they live mostly in the desert and savanna areas, where their great height is hard to camouflage.
Males will also use their antlers to defend their territory and fight other males during mating season.
Difference Between Horns and Antlers
When we see animals with protrusions on their faces, it can be hard to tell if they are antlers or horns. This is especially true with animals we aren’t familiar with.
In essence, horns are permanent and antlers are not. Many animals with antlers, such as deer, will actually shed them every winter and then grow new ones in the spring.
Antlers are made out of bone and grow from an animal’s skull. There is a small, permanent part of the antler, called a pedicle, which remains in place even during winter.
Over the bone part of the antler is a layer of skin which is called velvet, due to its texture. It provides oxygen and nutrients to the bone as it grows each year.
Generally, only cervids, which include deer and elk, grow antlers. They are important in the process of sexual attraction when finding a mate, as well as fighting other male deer.
In addition to looking impressive, horns have a lot of practical attributes. Made out of bone and keratin, they keep growing throughout an animal’s life.