Pronghorns: the goat-antelopes of the American West

Pronghorns tend not to make the headlines. They are not endangered (750,ooo or so still around), not THAT big, not excitingly dangerous, just dapper little antelopes …. except they aren’t.

Their scientific name is Antilocapra americana, which means American goat-antelope, but they are neither goat nor antelope, and quite unrelated to any other animal in the world. I watched a male with his harem of females:

The buck has these sculptural black horns, which turn out to be rather unusual. The San Diego Zoo website says (abbrieviated) “The horns of the pronghorn .. . are a cross between horns and antlers. True antlers are made of bone and shed each year; true horns are made of compressed keratin that grows from a bony core and are never shed. The pronghorn’s are a hybrid: the sheath is made of keratin but the horns shed yearly. True horns have only one point, not the prongs or forks that antlers have. Yet the male pronghorn’s horns can grow to be 10 inches long with a forward-facing prong. Female pronghorn have tiny horns” as you can see here:

The buck was very interested in his does, and doing the rounds. If one seemed to be receptive, he would scent the air around her, smacking his lips:

If she is receptive, she raises her tail, and he follows her:

still sucking the air:

and when she stands still,

he mounts her briefly.

After much sniffing around, and just this one apparently successful mating, he looked first triumphant,

but then exhausted:

Mark took a video on his phone through his scope of another rather desultory attempt:

What I really wanted to see was them running: they can run at 60 mph, and keep it up for longer than a cheetah. They achieve this with specially adapted limbs, extremely large lungs, and the ability to maintain a high rate of blood circulation. Alas for me, they were calmly grazing, with no reason at all to run off.

You’d think there would be a sports car named after the Pronghorn, rather than the Mustang. And guess what, after this idea occurred to me I googled around and discovered I was not the first person to think of this:

PS For more technical details of their ability to run faster than any other New World mammal, read this:

4 thoughts on “Pronghorns: the goat-antelopes of the American West”

  1. Another interesting post! I learned so much, from reading the animalbiodiversity link. They have great markings & I really like the black horns.


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