Horns are a helpful adaptation in the animal kingdom. They can be categorized along with claws and sharp teeth. What do those traits have in common?
They are useful in self-defense and can be used to wound another animal. Horns are adaptations that help an animal defend itself against attack, whether that attack comes from a potential predator, or another of its own species, such as in a territorial dispute.
This article takes a look at 11 animals with long horns. Let’s go!
11 Animals with Long Horns
Before we dive in, let’s discuss the difference between horns, antlers, and teeth. Some animals have bony protrusions on their bodies that look like horns, but are actually antlers or teeth! They act like horns but are not made of the same material that horns are.
Horns are parts of an animal’s body that grow as the animal matures. They are part of the body; they cannot be removed and they don’t fall off. They are made of bone or keratin, the same material human fingernails are made of.
Antlers grow fresh every year. They’re most common in large herbivores like deer. Male deer use their antlers to fight each other over access to does and territory.
The antlers fall off at the end of mating season. Long teeth – also known as tusks – can be mistaken for horns. Horns are different than tusks because of their composition and location.
Tusks are modified teeth and are made of bone. They originate from the mouth. Horns can also be made of bone, but they are usually extensions of bones in the skull.
1. Texas Longhorn
- Scientific Name: Bos taurus
- Horn Length: 8’ from horn tip to horn tip
Longhorn cattle are originally from Spain. Their distant ancestors came to the Americas on the conquistadors’ boats. They are usually associated with the Wild West and the state of Texas, where they are still bred for beef.
Many other breeds of cattle utilize longhorn genetics because longhorn cows are protective, attentive mothers. Cattle are ruminants and herd animals. They are prey for many large predators, including wolves, bears, and mountain lions.
Large horns may be decorative in some cases, but longhorn cattle know how to defend themselves with these massive, sharp horns. They whip their heads about and prevent a predator from getting too close.
2. Giant Eland
- Scientific Name: Taurotragus derbianus
- Horn Length: 2’ to 4’ long
The Giant elands are native to Africa, where they live in just two areas: just south of the Sahara desert in the Central African Republic, and the extreme west, in Guinea and Senegal. They are ruminants that eat grass and thrive in open spaces.
Males and females look and act differently. Males’ bodies’, including their horns, are larger than females’. Their horns are spiral-shaped and straight.
They extend back from between the ears but widen as they grow long into a “V” shape. Nocturnal and extremely attuned to danger, giant elands can run over 40 miles per hour to escape predators.
- Scientific Name: Antidorcas marsupialis
- Horn Length: 14” to 20” long
Springbok is native to southern Africa. Like white-tailed deer, which are native to the United States, springbok are crepuscular. This means that they are most active at dusk and dawn.
This transition period is a time when daytime predators are headed to sleep and nocturnal predators are just waking up. Springboks’ horns grow slowly throughout their lifetime. Calves are born without horns; they emerge and grow larger until the animal reaches adulthood.
Males use their horns to fight one another for territory and access to female springbok. They collide and even stab each other with their horns.
- Scientific Name: Antilocapra americana
- Horn Length: 1” to 17” long
The Pronghorn is the second-fastest land animal on earth. Only the cheetah can run faster. However, pronghorns have more endurance at high speeds than any other animal. They are native to North America, where they graze among the grasslands of the northern Rocky Mountains and Great Plains.
Both males and females have horns. Males’ horns, which are loosely V-shaped, measure 5” to 17”. Females rarely grow over 6” long, and they don’t fork.
The ends of the horns curve inward slightly. On males, the horn forks into a large and small section two-thirds of the way up the horn. Males fight each other for access to does during the breeding season.
5. Scimitar Oryx
- Scientific Name: Oryx dammah
- Horn Length: 3’ long
A scimitar oryx is a desert-dwelling ruminant that lives in the arid, dry regions of North Africa. They have long, slightly curved horns that measure over 3’ long in both males and females!
Scimitar oryxes are common in zoos, where they are usually part of the savanna animal exhibits. Since they’re so heat tolerant, private collectors in Texas also raise them for show.
6. Asian Water Buffalo
- Scientific Name: Bubalus bubalis
- Horn Length: 60” long, each
The water buffalo is another ruminant armed with horns to fight and defend itself. Males have larger horns than females. They use their horns to engage in territorial disputes and fights over access to females.
Both sexes will use their horns to defend themselves if they are threatened by a predator. They charge the threat, toss their heads, and try to slash and stab it.
Since water buffalos are native to Asia, there are many more large predators than in North America. Big cats, alligators, and crocodiles all pose a threat.
7. White Rhinoceros
- Scientific Name: Ceratotherium simum
- Horn Length: 24” to 59” long
The white rhinoceros is the largest living species of rhinoceros. They are majestic, solid, muscular ruminants that roam the plains of the African savannas in search of water-containing grasses. They are fiercely protective of their young and will try to kill anything that gets near them.
Folk medicine practitioners believed rhino horns had magic powers. In the last two centuries, poachers massacred thousands of rhinos just to see off the horn – which is made of keratin, just like human hair. Today, we protect some of the remaining rhinos from being killed by removing the horn while they are under anesthesia. This makes them useless to poachers.
8. Bighorn Sheep
- Scientific Name: Ovis canadensis
- Horn Length: 36” when measured along the spiral.
It’s all in a name, right? The Bighorn sheep is so named because of the large horns that curl about the sides of its head in a circle. Domestic sheep lack horns, so the bighorn sheep stands out.
It is bigger, more sure-footed, and more agile than a domestic sheep. Males have large spiral horns, while females’ horns are small and slightly arched.
Unlike other animals, whose horns stop growing after a certain amount of time, the bighorn sheep’s horns continue growing throughout its life. Older males with large horns may experience health problems because of their weight – over 13 pounds!
- Scientific Name: Monodon monoceros
- Horn Length: 5’ to 10’ long
The narwhal is the only aquatic mammal on this list. While the location of the narwhale’s ‘horn’ on the front of its head might lead someone to believe that it is a horn, that is not true. The narwhale grows a tusk from a modified incisor!
Only male narwhals have tusks. They socially rank themselves by their tusk size as well as use it to shock prey and exchange information with one another. The tusk is a spiral shape and is often cited as inspiration for the legend of the unicorn.
10. Alpine Ibex
- Scientific Name: Capra ibex
- Horn Length:
- Females: up to 13”
- Males: up to 39”
The Alpine ibexes are swift, agile species of mountain goats that spend their lives in the heights of the European Alps. They spring between rocky outcroppings and balance on scree slopes in search of grass, twigs, and leaves.
While they graze in herds throughout the year, males fight regularly to establish dominance. There, they use their horns to ram each other. Females’ horns are smaller than males’.
- Scientific Name: Cervus canadensis
- Horn Length: 48” long
The elk is one of the only animals on this list that lives in North America. It is one of the largest ruminants in North America, and it can take several predators to take down a beast of this size. While elk grow antlers, which fall off every year, not horns, which are permanent, they are included on this list because of their prominence and how they use their antlers in the same way horned animals do.
Male elk bugle to attract mates and defend their territory. An elk call rises through the mountain air and can be heard for miles around. Predators know where elk are – but the elk aren’t afraid. They are big enough to fight off wolves and even mountain lions.