Nature Knowledge: Antler vs. Horn
Let's up your intel on the local wildlife with information on this age-old question.
It's hard not to stare at the majestic wildlife that carry hefty antlers, horns, paddles, or ... whatever you call them on their heads for a good chunk of the year. But, what do you call them? What's the Difference between Horns and Antlers?
First, the difference between horns and antlers. Horns are permanent, slow-growing and are typically found on both sexes of a species such as antelope or bighorn sheep. Antlers are found on males only, with caribou being the exception. Antlers are found on bull elk and mule deer buck, are fast-growing and shed every year.
How are Antlers Grown? Antlers begin to grow back covered in velvet—which carries blood and nutrients throughout—allowing it to grow. Elk antlers can grow up to one-inch a day and are theorized to be the fastest-growing organic material known in mammals. A large bull elk can have antlers weighing as much as 40 pounds.
Once the antler reaches peak growth, the velvet falls off or is scraped off on trees. As long as the animal or antler isn’t injured, and the animal is taking in proper nutrients, antlers will grow back larger, year-over-year to a certain point. Once the animal reaches full maturity and starts to decline in age and health, they will stop growing larger each year and can sometimes decline in size.
What's the Point of Antlers?
Both elk and deer use antlers as a symbol of status. The bigger the antler, the seemingly stronger the male. This comes in handy for attracting mates and warning off competitors during the breeding season. During this time, both species will use their antlers to battle it out and win the right to mate with the females. They can also use antlers as a means to defend themselves from predators.
What's a Shed? Each spring, bull elk and mule deer buck’s antlers will literally just fall off their head. This annual loss is referred to as “shedding their antlers” by biologists and wildlife enthusiasts alike. Mule deer will shed anytime between January and May and elk are typically on the later side, shedding between March and May.
Each spring, people take to the hills and pick up shed antlers to be used as decorations in the home, cut up and given to dogs as treats, or simply kept as collectibles. If you decide to go “shed hunting,” make sure to check regulations in your area first and of course, be sure to ask before going on private land.
Gus Brunger is the Backcountry Wilderness Property Maintenence Coordinator. Gus grew up just down the road in Castle Rock, Colorado and spent his youth exploring Douglas County and surrounding areas. Gus studied natural resources at Colorado State University. He feels more at home outside than in and enjoys going on adventures with his fiancé and dog.