By Wendy Langhans
While researching a story, I sometimes stumble across my next story. That what happened last week. As I was researching stotting , I discovered that both Mule deer and antelopes stott. But I also became curious about those bony structures jutting out of their heads. As it turns out, antelopes have HORNS and mule deer have ANTLERS. Do you know the difference between horns and antlers? I didn’t.
Antlers are found in animals belonging to the Cervid  family, which consists of deer, moose, elk and caribou. Horns are found in animals belonging to the Bovid  family, including Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bison, and cows.
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I discovered that there’s a rule of thumb; you don’t need to know what the animal is to tell if you’re looking at a horn or an antler. Horns can stick straight out, curve, or even spiral like a corkscrew. But horns don’t branch out. Antlers branch out. If it looks like a fork, it’s an antler.*
From a distance, you can tell this animal has antlers, even if you don't know what it is. (Caribou, Denali National Park)
As I looked further into the details, the differences between the two became even more facinating:
1) Male versus female. Antlers are found on males (except for Caribou, which are found on both males and females). Horns are found on males and females, especially in the case of the larger species.
(A male Mule deer)
2) Daffodils versus Roses. Antlers are shed every year in the Fall and regrow again in the Spring (think Daffodil). Horns are permanent (think rose bushes). In many species, the horns never stop growing.
3) Eyebrows versus fingernails. Antlers are covered with a layer of skin and soft hair known as “velvet” (think eyebrows). This covering dies when the antlers finish growing and the animals remove it by rubbing their antlers against trees and shrubs. Horns, however, are covered with a layer of keritin (think fingernails), which does not die and is not shed.
(You can see the "velvet" on this male Elk's antlers)
4) Bone versus connective tissue . “Antlers grow from pedicels, which are bony supporting structures that develop in the lateral region of the frontal bones.” Horns “begin as small bony growths under the skin, over the skull, in the subcutaneous connective tissue,” which later fuses with the skull bones.
So the next time you watch Saturday morning cartoons, don’t be hornswoggled. Bambi has (or will have) antlers. So does Bullwinkle. But Elsie the Cow has horns.
* There’s one exception , the Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana). It has horns with 2 prongs, which it sheds and regrows each year.
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