Of fantastic horns and survival strategies

In an earlier post, I noted that antelope horns can be used for dissipating heat or male-male combat or in some cases for defense against predators.  But the variety of horn shapes and sizes in African antelope is truly impressive, as we found when driving around the Safari West wildlife reserve a few days ago.  Perhaps they have some undiscovered uses as well.

Addax, or Screwhorn Antelope are native to the Sahara desert, but critically endangered in the wild because of overhunting.  Both males and females sport long twisted horns that typically grow to about 3 feet in length.

Addax, or Screwhorn Antelope, are native to the Sahara desert, but critically endangered in the wild because of overhunting. Both males and females sport long twisted horns that typically grow to about 3 feet in length. Their pale reflective hair coat and nocturnal habits enable them to survive in the arid desert where they eat primarily succulent plants.

A look-alike to the Addax is the Scimitar-horned Oryx (or Sahara Oryx) that is now extinct in the wild.  They exist only in zoos and wildlife reserves (like Safari West).

A look-alike to the Addax is the Scimitar-horned Oryx (or Sahara Oryx) that is now extinct in the wild in its native Sahara desert habitat. They exist only in zoos and wildlife reserves (like Safari West), but in the wild their survival strategy was similar to that of the Addax:  forage at night on succulent fruits and plants, seek shade in the daytime.

At least this oryx has found an additional use for his long curved horns as a back-scratcher.

This Oryx has found an additional use for his long curved horns as a back-scratcher.

The Gemsbok, one of four species of Oryx and native to South Africa, has incredible heat-tolerance and water conservation strategies that enable it to survive in harsh desert habitats.

The Gemsbok, one of four species of Oryx and native to South Africa, like other Oryx species has incredible heat-tolerance and water conservation strategies that enable it to survive in harsh desert habitats.  Allowing its body temperature to rise during the daytime to 113F (45C) and drop again at night to 95F (35C) reduces its need to sweat or pant to cool off. But brain temperature remains constant by diverting hot blood from the body to its cool nasal passageways.  Do its elongate horns help eliminate heat? Unknown.

The Waterbuck, despite its name, does not live in or near water.  But those long horns must be good for something since this antelope wanders around in sub-Saharan scrub and savanah where long horns would seem to be at risk of getting entangled in vegetation.  Are they for thermoregulation?

The Waterbuck, despite its name, does not live in or near water. But those long horns must be good for something since this antelope wanders around in sub-Saharan scrub and savanah where long horns would seem to be at risk of getting entangled in vegetation. Are they for thermoregulation?

This bull Eland doesn't need long horns for protection; it's the largest antelope and its imposing stature would probably intimidate most predators.

This bull Eland doesn’t need long horns for protection.  It is the largest antelope species in Africa and its imposing stature and musculature would probably intimidate most predators.

Broken horns are not likely to regenerate, as the growth tip is damaged and blood supply interrupted.  Does this make the individual with one horn less likely to survive in it native habitat?

Not a unicorn, but close.

Not a unicorn, but close.

6 thoughts on “Of fantastic horns and survival strategies

  1. I used to think that long-horned cattle had impressive horns, but I am going to have to revise my thinking after seeing your photos of these amazingly horned creatures. What purpose indeed do the horns serve?

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