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  • the longest horn ever recorded on a Marco Polo sheep (mounted head pictured) measured 1.9 m (6.2 ft) and weighed 60 lb (27 kg)?

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A goat with spiral horns

A horn is a pointed projection of the skin on the head of various animals, consisting of a covering of horn (keratin and other proteins) surrounding a core of living bone. True horns are found mainly among the ruminant artiodactyls,[citation needed] in the families Antilocapridae (pronghorn) and Bovidae (cattle, goats, antelope etc.). One pair of horns is usual, but two pairs occur in a few wild species and in a few domesticated breeds of sheep. Partial or deformed horns in livestock are often called scurs.

Horns usually have a curved or spiral shape, often with ridges or fluting. In many species only the males have horns. Horns start to grow soon after birth, and continue to grow throughout the life of the animal (except in pronghorns, which shed the outer layer annually, but retain the bony core). Similar growths on other parts of the body are not usually called horns, but spurs, claws or hoofs.


Other hornlike growths

The term "horn" is also popularly applied to other hard and pointed features attached to the head of animals in various other families:

  • Giraffidae: Giraffes have one or more pairs of bony bumps on their heads, called ossicones. These are covered with furred skin.
  • Cervidae: Most deer have antlers, which are not true horns. When fully developed, antlers are dead bone without a horn or skin covering; they are borne only by adults (usually males) and are shed and regrown each year.
  • Rhinocerotidae: The "horns" of rhinoceroses are made of keratin and grow continuously, but do not have a bone core.
  • Ceratopsidae: The "horns" of the Triceratops were extensions of its skull bones although debate exists over whether they had a keratin covering.
  • Horned lizards (Phrynosoma): These lizards have horns on their heads which have a hard keratin covering over a bony core, like mammalian horns.
  • Insects: Some insects (such as rhinoceros beetles) have horn-like structures on the head or thorax (or both). These are pointed outgrowths of the hard chitinous exoskeleton. Some (such as stag beetles) have greatly enlarged jaws, also made of chitin.
  • Canidae: Golden jackals are known to occasionally develop a horny growth on the skull, which is associated with magical powers in south-eastern Asia.[1][2]

Many mammal species in various families have tusks, which often serve the same functions as true horns, but are in fact oversize teeth. These include the Moschidae (Musk deer, which are ruminants), Suidae (Wild Boars), Proboscidea (Elephants), Monodontidae (Narwhals) and Odobenidae (Walruses).

A sheep with one horn on one side and two on the other.

Polled animals or pollards are those of normally-horned (mainly domesticated) species whose horns have been removed, or which have not grown. In some cases such animals have small horny growths in the skin where their horns would be – these are known as scurs.

On humans

Cutaneous horns are the only examples of horns growing on people. They are believed to be caused by exposure to radiation. They are most often benign growths and can be removed by a razor.

Cases of people with naturally growing horns have been historically described, sometimes propagated to mythical status,[3] but there is no photographic evidence or extreme dry specimen to prove the phenomenon with modern science.[3] There are human cadaveric specimens that show outgrowings, but these are instead classified as osteomas or other excrescences.[3] Theoretically, there may be children born with horns which are corrected with early surgical intervention. However, the phenomenon of humans with horns has not been observed in countries lacking such advanced medicine. [3]

Some people, notably The Enigma, have horn implants; that is, they have implanted silicone beneath the skin as a form of body modification.[4]

Animal uses of horns

Animals have a variety of uses for horns and antlers, including defending themselves from predators and fighting members of their own species for territory, dominance or mating priority. In addition, horns may be used to root in the soil or strip bark from trees. In animal courtship many use horns in displays. For example, the male blue wildebeest reams the bark and branches of trees to impress the female and lure her into his territory. Some animals with true horns use them for cooling. The blood vessels in the bony core allow the horns to function as a radiator.

Human uses of horns

Water buffalo horn used as a hammer with cleaver to cut fish in southeast China.

Horned animals are sometimes hunted so their mounted head or horns can be displayed as a hunting trophy or as decorative objects. This practice can be considered controversial, especially as some animals are threatened or endangered due to reduced populations partially from pressures of such hunting.

Some peoples use bovid horns as musical instruments, for example the shofar. These have evolved into brass instruments in which, unlike the trumpet, the bore gradually increases in width through most of its length — that is to say, it is conical rather than cylindrical. These are called horns, though now made of metal.

Drinking horns are bovid horns removed from the bone core, cleaned and polished and used as drinking vessels. (See also the legend of the Horn of plenty, or Cornucopia). It has been suggested that the shape of a natural horn was also the model for the rhyton, a horn-shaped drinking vessel.[5]

Powder horns were originally bovid horns fitted with lids and carrying straps, used to carry gunpowder. Powder flasks of any material may be referred to as powder horns.

Antelope horns are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Horn can also refer to keratin, the material of which a horn is made, sometimes including keratin from other parts of animals, such as hoofs. Horn may be used as a material in tools, furniture and decoration, among other uses. In these applications, horn is valued for its hardness, and it has given rise to the expression hard as horn. Horn is somewhat thermoplastic and (like tortoiseshell) was formerly used for many purposes where plastic would now be used. Horn may be used to make glue.

Horn bows are bows made from a combination of horn, sinew and usually wood. These materials allow more energy to be stored in a short bow than wood would.

Ivory comes from the teeth of animals, not horns.

"Horn" buttons are usually made from deer antlers, not true horn.

See also


  1. ^ Sketches of the natural history of Ceylon by Sir James Emerson Tennent, published by Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861
  2. ^ Mammals of Nepal: (with reference to those of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Pakistan) by Tej Kumar Shrestha, published by Steven Simpson Books, 1997, ISBN 0952439069
  3. ^ a b c d Human Horns: A Historical Review and Clinical Correlation Tubbs, R. Shane; Smyth, Matthew D.; Wellons, John C. III,; Blount, Jeffrey P.; Oakes, W. Jerry. Neurosurgery: June 2003 - Volume 52 - Issue 6 - pp 1443-1448 doi: 10.1227/01.NEU.0000064810.08577.49 Literature Reviews
  4. ^ Johann, Hari. "Johann Hari on the bizarre world of radical plastic surgery". Guardian News and Media. 
  5. ^ Chusid, Hearing Shofar: The Still Small Voice of the Ram's Horn, 2009, Chapter 3-6 - Ram's Horn of Passover ( The book also posits that the ancient Hebrews and neighboring tribes used horns as weapons and as utensils.

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Simple English

Highland cow, a very old long-horned breed from Scotland.

Horns are part of the body of some animals. They grow on the animal's head. They are projections (things that stick out) made of hard skin. The horn has a lot of keratin in it, the same protein that is in human hair and nails.

Normally horned animals will have two horns, but the rhinoceros has just one horn in the middle of its head.

Animals often use their horns for fighting one another.

Thousands of years ago people used the horns of dead animals for musical instruments (see horn (musical instrument)). In later times, they were used for carrying gunpowder.

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