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  • Sara Thompson

Getting to the point on horns and antlers

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise


Headgear, ornamentation, cranial appendage: whatever you call it, the structures that many mammals have evolved over time are impressive. Most are classified into horns and antlers. These two structures may look similar and have the same purpose, but they are actually very different.

Horns are grown by many of the small, herbivorous animals in Africa such as gazelle, kudu, buffalo, and their relatives. In North America, horns can be found in bison, bighorn sheep, cattle, and their relatives. Horns are made up of two parts: a bone interior, and an outer keratin sheath. The bone core is an extension of the animal’s skull and will continually grow with the animal throughout its life. The outer sheath protects the bone and is made of the same material that makes hair and fingernails. Most species that have horns will be present in both males and females. If a horn is damaged or removed, it is not able to be replaced and the animal will live with either a part of a horn or none at all.


Like horns, antlers are also an extension of the skull, but that is where the similarities stop. Antlers are gown by animals of the Cervidae family and include deer, elk, moose, caribou, and more. Antlers are made entirely of bone and are covered in a thin layer of flesh and hair that is called velvet. The velvet is only present for part of the year and will be scraped off leaving just the bony structure present. The biggest difference between horns and antlers are that antlers are not permanent. An antlered animal will grow and shed a new set each year. Damaging or removing of an antler will not harm an animal in the long run, as it will regrow the following year. Antlers are typically only present in the males of the species, with caribou being the exception and are present in both sexes.


Come to Explorit on December 10 and 11 to explore a natural history mobile museum presented by Kaotic Mythicals. Explorit’s classroom will be filled with quality specimens of real animal skulls, pelts, skeletons, and mounted specimens. Over 100 species from around the world will be represented! Available from 10am-2pm and is included with our regular weekend admission of $5 per person, Members and children under 2 years old are free.


Exploit's coming events:

• Winter Science Camp at Explorit! From the science of snow to animal adaptation, we hope that your camper can join us for this exciting dive into the fascinating science of Winter. Spaces still available for grades 3-5, December 19-22 1-4pm. $175 Members/$200 Non-Members. A craft suitable for gifting included daily.

• Winter Break extended hours: December 23 10am-4pm, December 27-29 10am-2pm, December 30 10am-4pm

• Noon Year, Saturday, December 31 10am-2pm. Celebrate the New Year early with fun crafts and activities at Explorit. $5 per person, Members and children under 2 free.

• Explorit will be closed December 24-26 and Sunday, January 1

• Give the gift of Science this holiday season! A Membership to Explorit grant the recipients free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, camps and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world. To purchase or for more information visit https://www.explorit.org/membership or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.

• School Programs are available to schedule. We have educational programs that travel to schools and options for field trips at our facility. Please call 530-756-0191 for more information or to schedule.

• Now is a great time to donate and help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow: https://www.explorit.org/donate.


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