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What Is The Difference Between Horns And Antlers?

There are some important differences between horns and antlers.

a pile of antlers

Is this a pile of antlers or horns? (ktarbox, Flickr)

Horns and antlers have some important things in common. They both grow from an animal’s forehead, and both are used to assert dominance, provide defense and attract mates.

How To Tell Them Apart?

First off, horns look like daggers and are sometimes twisted into exotic shapes. Antlers look like branches and have multiple points.

Second, different types of animals sport different types of headgear. Horns belong to the bovids: animals such as sheep, goats, cows, and bison. Antlers belong to the cervids. That includes all deer, elk, moose and caribou (or reindeer).

A third difference is that horns are made of keratin just like your fingernails, meaning that they grow throughout an animal’s entire life and never fall off. Antlers, on the other hand, are made of bone. They fall off every year in winter or early spring, and a whole new set grows in time for mating season in the fall.

Antlers Belong To Males

Which brings us to our last big difference. Horns, you see, usually grow on both the male and female members of a species. Antlers, meanwhile, belong almost exclusively to the boys. Female caribou are the only exception, and their antlers are pretty small.

Read More:

  • Lincoln, G.A. “Biology of Antlers.” Journal of Zoology. 226 (1992) 517 528.
  • “Difference between Antlers and Horns.” Yellowstone National Park website. National Park Service. Online (14 July 2012):
  • Horns and Antlers.” Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Online (14 July 2012):

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