The pronghorn closely resembles a deer but is unique to the point that it has its own family. The body is mostly coloured light tan or reddish tan. The belly, rump, inner legs, cheeks and lower jaw are coloured white. On males a patch on the neck is black as is a broad stripe running down the snout from the eyes. On their back is a mane of short, erect hairs.
This species has some of the most unique horns on the planet in the sense that they are not horns. They are also not antlers. A true horn is made of compressed keratin and can’t be shed while antlers shed each year and are formed from bone. The horn is formed from keratin yet sheds each year. Horns also only come to one point while the pronghorns horn has a number of forks known as prongs. In males the horns may grow to be 30-50cm (11.8-19.7in) tall while in females they only reach 7.5-10cm (2.9-3.9in).
An average male pronghorn stands 80-90cm (31-25in) tall at the shoulders. From head to tail they measure 130-150cm (4.3-4.9ft). They weigh 42-59kg (92-129lb) while females are smaller at between 40 and 50kg (87-111lb).
The pronghorn is herbivorous. Their preferred food is non-woody flowering plants. They will also feed upon shrubs, grasses, cacti and domestic crops.
When they come across free water in lakes and rivers they will drink it. In the event that they cannot find water they will survive on the moisture in succulents.
Over winter their food is covered over by snow. They will use their feet to dig through this snow and reach the grasses and shrubs below. To eat this food they grind their teeth. As a result their teeth grown continuously to keep up with this.
They are a ruminant meaning that they have a four chambered stomach and chew their food twice.
North America is the native home of the pronghorn. Here they can be found throughout the central states, Southern Canada and portions of Mexico.
Pronghorns like open, expansive areas in which to make their home. They can be found in arid grasslands, deserts, grasslands, sage scrub and chapparal.
Breeding varies between the Southern and Northern populations. In the north they mate from mid to late September and in the south they mate from September to October.
A male (buck) will command a harem of three to four females (does). He will have a territory which he defends against other males. Females decide which male’s harem to join. They will mate with numerous males and regularly have twins born to two different fathers.
Before the pair mate the male shakes his head which emits pheromones which attract a female. After mating 4-7 eggs will be fertilized. Up to 7 embryos will begin to develop but as they grow 5 or 6 will be pushed out and reabsorbed leaving the others to develop into fawns.
252 days after mating the fawn is born with twins also regularly occurring. All females in a herd will give birth within about 10 days of each other. 30 minutes after birth they are walking and within a few days later the young are already up and about running faster than a human.
The first two weeks of the fawns life is spent hidden in the prairie grasses. Every few hours mum will return to feed it. Following this two weeks they will return to the herd.
At 3 weeks old they begin to try grass. By 4-5 months old they have been fully weaned. The mother provides care to their fawns for 1-1.5 years.
Sexually maturity occurs at 1 year old. Most females will not breed for another four months and it will take about 5 years before a male breeds.
Full weight is not reached until 4.5 years old.
Over the winter large pronghorn herds will form numbering up to 1,000 members so they can defend each other against predators. At other times they will disband into smaller groups sometimes with as little as 3 members.
Pronghorns will only spend a maximum of 10 minutes sleeping when they do. Most of their day is spent grazing with a spike in activity around dawn and dusk.
As a warning pronghorns will make a ‘snort-wheeze,’ males use a ‘high-pitched whine’ to court females and male who is ready to mate makes a ‘roar.’ They can also growl and smack their lips. Fawns make a ‘high-pitched bleat,’ to attract the attention of their mother.
This species is able to swim quite well. When they come to an obstacle they will go under it where possible.
Predators of the fawns and weaker adult pronghorns include wolves, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and golden eagles. To get away they will use their immense speed. They can also emit an odor from a gland on their rump which lets others known they are in danger.
Pronghorns are one of America’s fastest animals running at speeds of up to 86km/h (53 miles/h). Due to a mouth which takes in large amounts of oxygen and toes which cushion the impact of running that fast they can keep this up for a long time.
Herd of pronghorns make an oval-shaped formation when moving around.
A subspecies known as the Peninsular pronghorn is also known as the ghost of the desert due to their colouration which helps them blend with the terrain.
In relation to the body size pronghorns have the largest eye of any North American ungulate.
Photos from US Fish and Wildlife Service. Public Domain Images. Free to use and we hold no copyright.
IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group. 2016. Antilocapra americana (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T1677A115056938. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T1677A50181848.en. Downloaded on 21 May 2020.
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