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  • Writer's pictureJulien Biget

Horns in Female Antelopes

Updated: Jan 2

Ever asked yourself why female antelopes in some species have horns and not in others?

Horns in males have easily and accurately been described as a necessity for fighting purposes between them, to establish a hierarchy, and to fight for mating rights with the females. But horns in female antelopes have been a puzzle for a while. One theory suggested that the horns are for defence purposes against predators and defending their young, but this would only apply for larger antelopes, whereas smaller antelopes like duikers would not be able to use their horns as defence against large predators like leopards. Another theory suggested that the horns were to help young males blend in with a herd of horned females so that they can remain within the safety of the herd for longer before a territorial male identifies them as male and kicks them out of the herd. But again, this theory does not apply to the smaller antelopes which do not live in herds.

So why do female antelopes in some species have horns?

female and male antelope
Lerato Adventures – Horns in Female Antelopes

The horned female is on the left, the male on the right


A recent study found that it has to do with two very important things, one of which has not been looked at before. Firstly, how conspicuous is the antelope species, or how


open is the habitat that it lives in and how easily can predators identify the antelope from a distance. Secondly, something that has not been looked at before, how territorial is the female of that species, does it defend its territory from females of the same species.

If an antelope lives in open habitats it is therefore very conspicuous and stands out from a distance, thus is easily identified by predators. In this circumstance, a female would benefit from having horns for her and her young one’s defence against these predators. Whereas antelopes that live in dense habitats can just hide from predators and do not need horned females, like kudu. But what about smaller antelopes which live in dense habitats and have horned females? Here we must look at how territorial the female of that species is. This can now explain horned in females of smaller antelopes living in dense habitats like duikers. The females are territorial and must defend their territory from other females, so will benefit from having horns. And now almost all cases of horned females can be explained.



male and female antelope
Lerato Adventures – Horns in Female Antelopes

The male is on the left, the female on the right


 

Author

Julien T. Biget
Lerato Adventures – Julien T. Biget

Julien is French and Scottish, born in 1988 in Nairobi Kenya.


He's a professional Nature Guide and Trails Guide speaking both French and English. He has been lucky enough to have worked in some of the most amazing destinations Africa has to offer, from East Africa to Southern Africa, as well as some time in Central Africa.


From a very young age he knew he needed to work with animals, big or small, and somewhere in nature. He was always picking creatures up and trying to see the world from their perspective, trying to understand them as much as possible, mesmerised by their shapes and colours. He liked to share this passion with everyone around, always trying to get them involved in his discoveries. Nature is all around us, in Europe, Asia or Africa, all we have to do is realise it.

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