Pronghorn measure 52.1 to 58.8 inches (132.3 to 149.4 centimeters) long and have a shoulder height of 32.7 to 37 inches (83.1 to 94 centimeters). They weigh 87 to 129 pounds (40 to 59 kilograms). These long-legged runners have stocky bodies, and their coat is various shades of brown on top, with sides and underparts creamy white. Males have brownish black patches from below the ears and downward 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10.2 centimeters). Pronghorn have a short mane on the back of the neck, and their tails are short (4 inches, or 10.2 centimeters). The rump is covered by two patches of white hair. This animal is able to regulate the amount of insulation provided by its coat by erecting or flattening its hairs.
Both sexes have horns covered in keratin (KARE-ah-tin; protective material that makes up hair and fingernails). There are two branches, or prongs, one curving forward and another, shorter one pointing directly back. Males shed their horns every year; females shed them irregularly. Pronghorn have superb vision. Researchers believe that the placement of their eyes high on top of their skulls allows for them to keep a watch for predators while continuing to feed on lower-elevated grounds.
Found in western North America.
Pronghorn can be found in abundant numbers in short-grass prairies where shrubs are readily available even with snow cover. Steppes (vegetation zones characterized by shrubs, grasses, and few trees) are also popular habitats, and deserts are home to less than 1 percent of the population.
Pronghorn are usually found on treeless, flat terrain between altitudes of 3,000 to 8,000 feet (914 to 2,438 meters).
Pronghorn prefer succulent (water-based) forbs (drought-resistant herbs with broader leaves than grasses) over other food. During droughts and snowy months, pronghorn rely on shrubs to supplement their diet. They walk while they eat and seem to find food using smell as well as sight. They use their muscled lips to grab hold of plants and vegetation, bring it to their mouths, then rip the plant apart with their teeth. Pronghorn will drink water if available, but pronghorn get most of their water from succulents, plants that contain a lot of water.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Pronghorn are among the fastest land animals, able to reach speeds of 53.7 miles per hour (86.5 kilometers per hour) and maintain that pace for several miles (kilometers) before exhaustion sets in. They run with their mouths open to increase oxygen intake. Pronghorn are also strong swimmers.
Pronghorn are vocal animals, and make snorting and “sneezing” sounds when sensing something unfamiliar in their habitat. Fawns make soft bleating sounds (similar to lambs) that help parents locate hidden offspring. Adult females grunt or click when approaching hidden fawns or when being pursued by bucks. Bucks roar when chasing does or other bucks. During courtship, bucks smack their lips and flick their tongues, both of which create a low sucking sound.
Pronghorn live in herds, sometimes loosely scattered, but always highly organized. When threatened, they’ll raise their white rump hairs and snort, alerting other herd members to gather together more closely. They are active during daylight and nighttime, with peak activity occurring just after sunrise and before sunset. They spend most of their time feeding or sleeping, the latter of which they do in short spurts and frequently throughout the day.
Home ranges vary greatly and are dependent on quality of habitat, group size, season, and history of land use. Winter and summer ranges may be as far apart as 100 miles (160 kilometers). Bucks will mark their territory with urine and feces.
Pronghorn are polygynous (puh-LIH-juh-nus; one male has several female mates), and mating occurs between July and early October. Pregnancy lasts eight and a half months; a single fawn is born in the spring if this is the doe’s first birth. Successive births usually result in twins, rarely triplets. By day four, fawns are able to outrun humans. Fawns nurse (drink mother’s milk) until around four weeks of age, at which time they join their mothers on feeding trips.
Pronghorn are sexually mature at sixteen to seventeen months. Primary predators, animals that hunt them for food, include coyotes, wolves, and bobcats. Lifespan is seven to ten years.
PRONGHORN AND PEOPLE
Pronghorn have a long history with Native Americans. Many Indian myths involved this animal, and it was considered the personification of peace, good fortune, and speed. Pronghorn often appeared on prehistoric pottery and walls.
Late in the nineteenth century, pronghorn were slaughtered for their skins. Canada and the United States opened hunting seasons in the mid-1900s, and by the end of 2002, almost five million pronghorn had been legally harvested. This hunting season provides tons of meat and millions of dollars in profit for businesses located in pronghorn country.
Pronghorn are known to damage crops, sometimes extensively.
Pronghorn are not threatened.