How to "Read" a Skull: Horns and Antlers

Horns or antlers found on a skull bear evidence of how an animal communicated, defended its self and possibly the animal's sex. Animals can protect themselves or attack other animals by goring them with their horns or antlers. Bighorn sheep, muskox and deer use their horns or antlers for establishing territory and winning mates.

What is the difference between horns and antlers? Horns are permanent structures that grow year after year. Depending on the species, both male and female bovid animals (cattle, gazelle, antelope, etc.) can have horns. Antlers, however, are temporary. Antlers grow, develop and shed from the animal once a year. Antlers are branched and only found in the cervid family (deer, moose, elk, etc.). With the exception of the female caribou, only male cervids have antlers.

Book a field trip to SKELETONS: Museum of Osteology, so you and your students can learn about horns and antlers by viewing and comparing a variety of animal skeletons!