Antlers are the large growths that are found on the heads of many deer species. It is mostly the male members that have antlers, but female caribou and reindeer also have antlers. The main function of the antlers are as a weapon and defense. Male deer often use the antlers to battle another deer in a show of dominance and as a way of attracting a mate. Antlers are usually shed after the breeding season and the deer grows new antlers soon after this occurs. Antlers are a prized hunting trophy and are often mounted for display. Let’s take a look at the composition of deer antlers.
What are antlers made of?
The antlers grow form a point on the skull called a pedicle. Growth happens at the tip (called growing tip or mesenchyme), which is cartilage. This cartilage mineralizes and becomes bone and the antlers continue to grow in this way. The inner antler bone is porous (trabecular) and the outer bone is hard bone (cortical). A layer of skin, called velvet, grows on the outside of the antlers and this provides the growing antlers with oxygen and other important nutrients. Once the antlers are fully grown the velvet is shed and reveals the hard bone of the outer antlers. It is at this time that they are ready to use for the next mating season!
Did you know?
Deer antlers come in many shapes and sizes. The size and shape of the antler allow the female deer to judge the condition of the male deer. It is also thought that it may allow other males to determine whether they will fight them.
Antlers have been used in many ancient cultures for a variety of applications such as making tools, weapons, decorative items and in folk medicine.