Why deer have antlers? What are they made of?

The elaborate headgear that moose, caribou and other members of the deer family carry isn’t just for show. Antlers are very functional tools, serving their bearers not only as weapons in the mating season but as snow shovels in winter and as air conditioners in summer. Antlers, which are made of bone, are unique to deer. Unlike the horns of animals such as goats and bison, antlers are not permanent. Each year they grow, are shed and are then re-grown. In fact, antlers are the fastest growing tissue known. They achieve the length of seven feet and a weight of more than 20 kilograms in just tree to four months.

The cycle of antler growth coincides with the rutting season. They begin to grow in early spring, sprouting from swollen pads on the skull. While growing, they are covered with a soft, hairy skin called ‘velvet’. Under the velvet is the blood supply, which carries nourishment to the growing bone.

Because the blood vessels are so close to the surface during the velvet stage, the antlers act as a cooling system, letting off access body heat. But this also makes them delicate – susceptible to bruising and bleeding. By late fall the antlers reach the full size and hardness. Their blood supply cuts off, and the dead and dry velvet peels away. The deer is then ready to challenge other bucks head-on for a mate.

When mating is over, the antlers drop off, leaving a pair of bony bases from which next year’s set will grow. Among more than 50 kinds of deer in the world, males usually get the antlers. But in two cases – the female caribou and reindeer – nature has opted for equality. The females use the shovel-shaped branches of their antlers to dig away snow cover and find food beneath it. After being shed, the antlers are eaten by small forest animals for the rich supply of calcium, salt and other useful minerals.

You might also like:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *