Search This Blog

Saturday, April 7, 2018

What's the Difference?, Part II

What's the Difference? was a post I wrote years ago, detailing the differences between crocodiles and alligators.  And now, for the sequel that no one asked for!

While the term also encompasses pigs, horses, and camels, among other animals, the majority of the hoofed mammals are deer and antelope.  These two terms are used interchangeably by many zoo-visitors, usually with a dismissive, "Oh, it's just another deer..."  Despite this, the two aren't especially closely related - about to the same extent as dogs and cats are to each other.  It would be worth taking a moment to explore the differences between these two groups of hoofed mammals.

The antelope are members of the Bovidae, the family that encompasses the cattle, sheep, and goats, though they physically resemble deer more closely than they do their closer relatives.  They are found throughout Africa and Eurasia.  The deer are more cosmopolitan in their distribution, sprawling across North and South America, Europe and Asia, and possessing a toehold in northern Africa.  Both come in a variety of sizes and shapes, social groupings, and habitat preferences.

The primary difference between the deer and antelope is a question of headgear.  Deer possess antlers, whereas antelope have horns.  These are another two terms which many zoo visitors often confuse.  Antlers are possessed by male deer; the only species in which the female also has antlers is the caribou, or reindeer.  These antlers are branched into prongs or points; every year, the antlers fall off, and are regrown in the next.  Horns, in contrast, are permanent.  While they may vary enormously in size and shape, from the short, sharp spikes of a duiker to the spiraling coils of a kudu, they are never branched.

Left: Mounted set of wapiti antlers, Elmwood Park Zoo.  Right: Blackbuck antelope horns

As soon as we stop dismissively thinking of all deer and antelope as being part of some bland, monolithic herd of boring Bambis, we can see them for what they are - approximately 150 species (about 90 antelope, about 60 deer) of extraordinary beautiful and diverse animals, each worthy of admiration and conservation.

No comments:

Post a Comment