Antler vs. Horn

What's the Difference?

Antler and horn are both types of bony structures found in animals, but they differ in several ways. Antlers are typically found on male deer species and are shed and regrown annually. They are composed of bone-like tissue covered in a layer of skin called velvet, which is shed once the antlers are fully grown. Antlers are primarily used for mating rituals and dominance displays among males. On the other hand, horns are found in both male and female animals and are permanent structures that continue to grow throughout an animal's life. They are made of a bony core covered in a keratin sheath, which is the same material found in human hair and nails. Horns are used for defense, territorial disputes, and as a tool for foraging. Overall, while both antlers and horns serve important functions for animals, their growth patterns, composition, and purposes differ significantly.


Photo by Christina Rumpf on Unsplash
StructureBony outgrowthsKeratin sheaths
RegrowthShed and regrow annuallyPermanent, not shed
LocationFound on deer family (Cervidae)Found on bovids (cattle, goats, etc.)
BranchingBranches extensivelyUsually unbranched
SizeCan grow larger than hornsGenerally smaller than antlers
FunctionUsed for combat, display, and dominanceUsed for defense and territorial battles
Found inDeer, moose, elk, reindeer, etc.Cattle, goats, sheep, antelope, etc.
Photo by Magdalena Kula Manchee on Unsplash

Further Detail


Antlers and horns are fascinating structures found in various animals, serving different purposes. While they may appear similar at first glance, there are significant differences between the two. In this article, we will explore the attributes of antlers and horns, highlighting their unique characteristics and functions.


Antlers are bony structures that grow and are shed annually in certain species of deer, such as moose, elk, and reindeer. They are composed of true bone and are the fastest-growing mammalian tissue. Antlers are typically branched and are primarily found in males, although some female deer species also possess them. These impressive appendages serve various purposes, including combat, dominance display, and attracting mates.

One notable attribute of antlers is their rapid growth rate. During the growing phase, antlers are covered in a soft, velvety skin that supplies blood and nutrients. This allows them to grow up to an inch per day, making them one of the fastest-growing structures in the animal kingdom. Once fully developed, the velvet is shed, revealing the hardened bone beneath.

Antlers also exhibit a wide range of shapes and sizes, depending on the species and individual. Some antlers have multiple branches, while others may be more streamlined. The size and complexity of antlers often play a role in determining social status and dominance within a herd.

Another unique attribute of antlers is their annual shedding. After the mating season, antlers are shed and regrown in a continuous cycle. This shedding process allows for the growth of larger and more impressive antlers each year, enhancing the male's chances of reproductive success.

Furthermore, antlers are primarily used for combat during the mating season. Male deer engage in fierce battles, clashing their antlers together to establish dominance and secure mating rights. The strength and durability of antlers make them effective weapons, capable of inflicting significant damage.


Horns, on the other hand, are found in various animals, including cattle, sheep, goats, and certain species of antelope. Unlike antlers, horns are not shed and continue to grow throughout an animal's life. They are composed of a bony core covered by a keratin sheath, which is the same material found in human hair and nails.

One key attribute of horns is their permanent nature. Once developed, horns remain with the animal for its entire life. This longevity allows them to serve multiple functions, including defense, territorial display, and intra-species communication.

Horns also differ from antlers in their growth pattern. While antlers grow from the tips, horns grow from the base. This continuous growth allows horns to become larger and more robust over time. However, the growth rate of horns is significantly slower compared to antlers.

Another distinguishing attribute of horns is their solid structure. Unlike antlers, which are composed of true bone, horns consist of a bony core covered by a keratin sheath. This combination provides strength and durability, making horns effective for defense against predators or rival individuals.

Furthermore, horns often exhibit a more uniform shape compared to the diverse forms of antlers. They typically have a curved or spiral shape, with variations depending on the species. The size and shape of horns can also play a role in determining social hierarchy and dominance within a group.


Antlers and horns are remarkable structures that have evolved in different animal species to serve various purposes. While both possess unique attributes, they differ significantly in terms of growth pattern, composition, and lifespan. Antlers, with their rapid growth, annual shedding, and combat function, are primarily found in certain deer species. On the other hand, horns, with their permanent nature, continuous growth, and defensive role, are present in a wider range of animals. Understanding these distinctions allows us to appreciate the diversity and complexity of the animal kingdom.

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