“Oh, Those Fearsome Horns!”

by, Jo Carol Hebert

The branched antlers of the Cervid/Deer family are awesome, regal and graceful. But we are fascinated by the fearsome horns of the Bovid family! The potential for danger is magnified in our imagination by pointed spears of bone growing out of their foreheads in every direction! 

Families Are Alike, But Different

The Cervid and Bovid families are the same in some ways. Both are ‘even-toed’ ungulates (have hooves for feet). They are herbivores that have stomachs to double digest their plant food. They are major ‘prey animals’ to carnivores, Fortunately, they are fast runners. Their family status depends on the big question: “are those antlers or horns protruding from their heads?” 

The main species of horned Bovids are: buffalo, bison, antelopes, cattle, sheep, and goats. Male and female Bovids can have horns. The main species of Cervids are deer, moose, elk, and caribou. Only male Cervids have antlers.

Remember: Antlers are branched and shed each year; horns are unbranched and permanent.

Horns for a Reason

What an inspiring variety of shapes and sizes we see in the horns of the Bovid family! Spiral, straight, spindled, curving, spiked, coiled, corkscrewed, smooth, ridged, pointed, sharp, and always dangerous. Horns are used mainly for defense: to fight other males in the ‘rutting season’ of mating or to be a predator’s worst nightmare. Horns are also useful as a tool for scraping in dirt and snow to find food.

The Bovid Family Across the World

Wild Bovids are at home on grasslands, deserts, mountains, Arctic tundras, and in dense forest habitats around the world. They are most diverse on the continent of Africa. Europe, Asia and North America have their wild Bovids. South America and Australia have domesticated Bovids. Antarctica has no native population of Bovids. 

Chowsinghas and Duikers, Too 

The 2,200-pound Wild Yak roams the mountains of Asia and the little 50-pound Chowsingha nibbles grass in India. Massive-horned Water Buffalo cross crocodile-infested waters in Africa. Tiny spiked-horned Yellow Duikers of Africa hide in wooded areas. Millions of long, delicate-horned Gazelles and Impalas trek the parched open lands of the African Serengeti Plains. 

Remnants of Bison browse on the Great Plains of North America. Blackbuck antelopes with spiral twisted horns move across the open grassy plains of India and Pakistan. Big-horn Mountain Sheep perch on narrow ledges in the Rocky Mountains of Canada.  A few long, backward sweeping horns of the rare Capra Ibex can be seen in the mountains of Switzerland.

Did You Know? 

  • There are 143 species of Bovids on the planet.  
  • The word bovid comes from the Latin word, bos for ‘ox’.
  • Cloven is another word for ‘’even-toed’ hooves (have two toes on each hoof).
  • Horns are made of keratin, and grow from the same hair follicles that form fingernails and hooves.
  • A rhino is not a bovid because it is an ‘odd-toed’ hooves ungulate (3 toes on each hoof)
  • Giraffes have short knobbed horns but are not Bovids because they are in their own family of Giraffes.
  • A Unicorn is not a Bovid because it is a pretend horse!

Humongous Horns

The Addax

Measured vertical (up) from skull to the tip of the horn:

  • Four-Horned Antelope of India: front horns/4-½ inches and back horns/2 inches
  • Reedbuck Antelope of Africa: only 1 foot
  • Blackbuck Antelope of India: 2-½ feet
  • Mouflon Wild Sheep of Eastern Turkey: almost 3 feet
  • Alpine Ibex Wild Goat of European Alps: over 3 feet
  • Addax of North Africa: almost 4 feet
The Asian Water Buffalo

Measured horizontal (across) the length of both horns ‘tip to tip’

  • American breed Ankole Watusi: over 8 feet 
  • Asian Water Buffalo: over 13 feet!

*Check out “The Kudu and the Pudu”. Which one has antlers and which one has horns?

*Maybe you have an idea of an ‘animal with horns or antlers’’ in your imagination. Draw it, write about it and send it in! We LOVE to hear from YOU.

Take the True/False ‘Bovid’ Quiz!

Hint: Answers are found in the post.

1. True/False? The Cervid/Deer family has antlers.

2. True/False? The Bovid family has horns.

3. True/False? Cervids and Bovids have hooves.

4. True/False? Cervids and Bovids eat plants.

5. True/False? Bovids have antlers.

6. True/False? Deer have horns.

7. True/False? The continent of Antarctica has Bovids.

8. True/False? Africa has the most numbers of Bovids.

9. True/False? Rhinos and Giraffes are Bovids.

10. True/False? The Asian Water Buffalo has the longest horns.

How Did You Do?

10 out of 10 – You Can Toot Your Own “Horn”

6 to 9 – “Bovid” It or Not – That’s Pretty Good!

1 to 5 – Better Start “Grazing” On This Info!

0 Answers – “Cervid” You Right For Not Paying Attention!


Categories: Horns & Antlers

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