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Horns on a male Impala
A curved horned gazelle and a horned rhinoceros. Art by Marc "Schirm" Schirmeister.

A horn is a permanent pointed projection on the head of various animals that consists of a covering of keratin and other proteins surrounding a core of living bone.


In mammals, true horns are found mainly among the ruminant artiodactyls in the families Antilocapridae (pronghorn) and Bovidae (bovines: cattle, goats, antelope, etc.). Cattle horns arise from subcutaneous connective tissue (under the scalp) and later fuse to the underlying frontal bone. In the wild, horns are most commonly found on ungulates.

Horns are commonly made of keratin, a hard natural substance from which fur and claws are also made. Most animals, grow continuously through an animal's life, sometimes in a continuous curve or curl, and are not shed. They also commonly occur in pairs.

Other animals, such as the rhinoceros, possess one or two horns (depending on the species) on the upper surface of the snout. However, these horns are not true horns and lack a bony core so they can grow back if cut.

Horns are mostly used by males to compete with other males; females often lack horns for this reason, but in some species,[citation needed] both males and females can have them.

Styles of horns[edit]

  • Straight: a simple, uncurved spike, seen in the unicorn, an imaginary fantasy creature.
  • Curved: a horn with a small curvature in one direction. Seen in gazelles and goats.
  • Curled or Spiral: horns with strong curvature, such that they circle in a helix. Seen in sheep, in which the horns curl round at the sides of the head to provide a hard, curved area to butt with; also in impala, which grow the horns upward and outward in a long spiral.

Hornlike structures[edit]

  • Antlers - A pair of non-permanent, bony, branching growths on the heads of deer. They are structurally dissimilar to horns, but their function is the same. Unlike horns, they are shed every year and regrown completely. The pronghorn is unique in that it has horns, but sheds the horny sheath each year, leaving a bony prong.
  • Tusks - Elongated front teeth which resemble horns. The most well-known animal with tusks is the elephant, but it occurs in other animals, including pigs, peccaries, hippopotamuses, walruses, chevrotains, water deer, muntjac, musk deer and the narwhal.
  • Ossicones - Skin-covered bone structures on the heads of members of the family Giraffidae, such as the giraffe and okapi. Ossicones are distinguished from the superficially similar structures of horns and antlers by their unique development and a permanent covering of skin and fur.


Bony horns are rare or unknown in the wild but are commonly featured on fantasy dragons, which may have one or more pairs. The ear-tufts of owls are sometimes called "horns", but these are merely clumps of feathers that happen to be located on the top of the head.

Horns and furry[edit]

In fursuits, horns are often made out of plastic due to weight.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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