Antlers are an extension of the animal skull that is visible in the members of the deer family. Antlers are mainly composed of bones, cartilage, fibrous tissue, skin, nerves and blood vessels. Though they are often seen in male deer, only female reindeers or caribous can grow an antler. They shed and grow new antlers every year. The purpose of having this antler is to attract a mate and these antlers are used for defense purposes to protect the female reindeer from predators or protect their babies from danger in critical condition.
Antlers are paired structures of bones that look like tree branches. Developing antlers need a high amount of water and protein content. The antlers are covered by a soft, hair-like covering that is comprised of blood vessels and nerves. Antlers remain visible for few months before the deer has to shed the old antlers and grow new ones. Antlers are different from horns. Horns are unbranched, two-part structure with a bony core. The horn in animals is covered by a keratin sheath that is found in human nails and hairs. Horns are permanent while animals have to shed their antlers. Horns grow continuously while antlers do not follow any pattern to grow.
Male and female caribou also known as reindeer can grow antlers. Though antlers are visible in male deer of different species, only female reindeers grow antlers other than any species of deer. This depends on the testosterone level of the female reindeer. If the female reindeer have a higher than normal level of testosterone, they can grow an antler. They use their antler to find food in the heavy snow. Female reindeers with larger antlers are socially dominant and they have the best physical ability compared to other female reindeer of their species. This large antler helps the female reindeer to protect its food from other reindeers with small antlers in critical condition like the winter when food is scarce.
Reindeer antlers are shaded and regenerated every year. In male deer, antlers shed in the later period of autumns. As reindeer has the physical ability to survive the harsh cold environment, this biological process of shading the antler takes place after the rut. Female reindeers don’t shed their antlers in late autumn. They shed their antlers in spring. This is because they need their antlers to maintain their access to nutrition during their pregnancy. Female reindeers tend to get pregnant in the winter which is the breeding season for reindeers. During that critical condition, they need to eat a large amount of healthy and nutritious food. They use their antlers to dig out food from the snow and protect their food territory from imposters and other reindeer.
So, Do Female Deer Have Antlers?
It is quite astonishing to see antlers on female reindeers and the reason is not only fascinating but the female deer with reindeers also have fascinating characteristics. They have to produce testosterone hormone to grow an antler. Testosterone hormones are seen in male reindeers but, astonishingly, some female reindeers can produce testosterone hormone and use that hormone to grown an antler, showing the wonders of nature. This is a rare incident because female reindeers need to have an imbalance in the hormones to increase the testosterone level and that is the only possible explanation for some female reindeers to have antlers.
Another astonishing factor is that reindeers that have antlers sometimes turn out to be hermaphrodites. A hermaphrodite has both male or female sex organs. But this is rarely seen in reindeer. It is estimated that between 1 in every 5000 reindeer are hermaphrodites and grow an antler. There are some rare cases in deer’s having rare genetic defect that helps them to grow a set of antlers. According to scientists, these hermaphrodites have two categories. One is ‘true hermaphrodite and the other is ‘pseudohermaphrodite’.
In the first case, the deer could have both male and female organ that is visible and show the outside organs pf the opposite or both sexes. In the second case, they have internal male or female organ that is not visible and can’t be easily identified. They have the internal organs of one sex but their external organ represents the opposite sex. They are different from true hermaphrodites as they have only one internal and one external organ. In both conditions, their hormones can get mixed up. As a result, hermaphrodite grows antlers. It heavily depends on the level of testosterone their body can produce. They need to produce more testosterone than the average doe to grow small and large antlers. These antlers stay inside their velvet for most of their life span. These are rare incidents and pretty hard to find out deer that have this kind of birth defect.
These antlers do not grow from their pedicels. They grow inside from the skull plate of the deer. These defects are permanent antlers. They don’t shed like normal antler and neither they can be regenerated. It is a rare incident and according to the statistics, one female deer in 20,000 does have small antlers that can’t be shed or regenerated making it a birth defect. It is possible to see female reindeer that do not grow any antlers. It is possible for female reindeer living areas that don’t have a proper supply of food and extreme weather. Growing an antler takes a lot of energy supply. Reindeer that doesn’t get access to nutritious food cannot grow an antler.
They need to have the proper balance of nutritious food and testosterone hormones to grow antlers. Reindeer are also known as caribou. They are called reindeer in Europe. In North America, they know as caribou if they are wild and reindeer if they are domesticated. They have the biggest antlers compared to other deer in existence because of the size of their body and they have the heaviest antlers in existence. Male deer have larger antlers than female deer. Male deer can grow antlers as long as 51 inches in length. Female deer can grow their antlers up to about 20 inches in length.
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