What Are Deer Antlers Made Out Of?

September 30, 2020 2 min read

Deer antlers are one of the most exaggerated sexual characteristics in the animal kingdom. Present only in male deer, they are more of a draw on the deer's metabolism than anything else, and because of that are sure sign of how healthy the buck's metabolism is. The antlers are also used as weapons by male deer, usually for fighting over females; as such they are re-grown every year and are ready just in time for mating season. The winner of each battle, who is also presumably the healthiest and thus most attractive buck, has his choice of mating partners.

Although antlers were originally tusks, they are now grown from a pair of buds on the buck's forehead. Each year they grow, starting off as cartilage; eventually the cartilage will be replaced by bone as the antlers mineralize. As they grow they are covered in velvet, which is actually a system of small capillaries that bring material to the antlers and build them. The growth is at the tips; as the antler grows, the rest of the antler becomes bone. When the antlers are fully grown, a process that can take months, the velvet rubs off, a process the buck helps by rubbing the antlers against any rough surface he can find, such as trees or large rocks. Rubbing off the velvet reveals the antlers, which are now ready for the mating ritual.

The appearance of the antlers depends on the species, and their duration depends on how far north or south of the equator the home of the species in question is. In general, antlers of deer far removed from the equator drop off every year. On the other hand, deer species that are based near the equator tend to keep their antlers for several years or they may never drop off.

Although antlers are primarily used for mating rituals, used by bucks trying to prove themselves before they mate, antlers do have other uses. Although deer antlers are pretty much limited to offensive purposes, other species do have other uses for them. Caribou, for example, use them to scrape through the frozen ground in order to reach the vegetation underneath, and moose use theirs as parabolic hearing aids. Nonetheless, antlers are used primarily as a determiner in which bucks mate each year, as females are attracted to larger antlers, and antler fights help eliminate competition in more than one way.

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