Where The Pronghorn Play

In honor of zoology and wildlife biology moving to the College of Agriculture, Life Sciences, and Natural Resources, I would like to highlight one of the amazing animals native to UW’s hometown: the pronghorn. A little-known fact about me is that I love pronghorn antelopes and my interest in them has grown considerably since moving to Wyoming. I see them in town when going to Walmart and on Jacoby’s golf course all the time! Because of their constant presence, they don’t get people’s attention as much as a moose or elk would. However, pronghorns, often overlooked for bigger and better game animals, are actually pretty awesome. Here’s why.

Their nickname, the “speed goat”, isn’t just for giggles. They evolved during a time when cheetahs still roamed North America. They aren’t quite as fast as a cheetah, at top speeds of 60 mph, but they can maintain this speed for much longer. Today, predators get around their immense speed by herding them to a fence line, which they will not jump over. The lower portion of a pronghorn’s limb bone is only as wide as a human’s index finger, allowing for high speed, but a preference not to jump. Imagine the entire body weight of a pronghorn (90-150) pounds coming straight down on your index finger. Not good. Because of this, they prefer to shimmy under fences. This behavior often leads to them scraping and cutting their backs on barbed wire and getting infected. Conservation efforts suggest that landowners put smooth wire on the bottom of the fence and make sure it’s at least 18 inches off the ground in popular crossing areas.

Something else that amazes me about this species is that they are the exception to so many rules. The landmark they are known for, their horn antler mashup, is actually a sheath of keratin that encases a core made of bone. They are the only species that shed their horns, and their shedding time is incredibly variable. They are also the only species with forked horns, which is where the name “pronghorn” comes from. Did you know that they aren’t actually part of the antelope family either? Their closest living relative is the giraffe, and they are part of the Giraffoidea superfamily.

Another incredible fact goes back to conception. Twins are relatively common in pronghorn births, however, there are initially up to seven embryos. The embryos tangle together until they literally pull each other apart, battling for life. Biologists call this the thread stage because they are long, thin, and knot around each other. Depending on the winter conditions the mother is going through, there can be four, or three, but most commonly two or one fawns are born. This intense beginning makes it all the more surprising that fawns spend the first month of their life mostly hiding in vegetation from predators and waiting for their mothers to come back to them. Babies have almost no odor during this time, to protect against predators, but adult males mark their territory with scent glands from the sides of their heads. They have also adapted a scent gland under their tails to be when there’s danger nearby almost like a skunk.

I am by no means a wildlife biologist or zoologist, but for the pronghorn, I might have to change my major. The second fastest land mammal is an incredible example of adaptation, function, and exceptions to nature’s rules. It’s time to stop overlooking the pronghorn because they are downright awesome, and they are right here in our backyard.


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