The pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) is a unique North American mammal.
Though they’re colloquially called the “American antelope,” pronghorns aren’t related to antelope at all.
The pronghorn is the only surviving member of the family Antilocapridae.
As a member of the superfamily Giraffoidea, the pronghorn’s closest living relatives are the giraffes and okapi.
The pronghorn is distributed throughout the treeless plains, basins, and deserts of western North America, from the southern prairie provinces of Canada, southward into the western United States and to northern Mexico.
Pronghorns are primarily found in grassland, sage scrub or chapparal, and desert. The southern portion of their range consists mainly of arid grasslands and open prairies. Throughout the rest of their range they are common in sage scrub and chaparral as well, areas of dense shrubs with tough leaves.
Their habitat ranges from sea-level to about 3,500 meters (11,500 feet).
The lifespan of the pronghorns is about 10 years.
The pronghorn has a deer-like body. Adult males are from 1.3 to 1.5 meters (4 ft 3 in to 4 ft 11 in) long from nose to tail, stand from 81 to 104 centimeters (32 to 41 in) high at the shoulder, and weigh from 40 to 65 kg (88 to 143 lb). The females are the same height as males, but weigh from 34 to 48 kilograms (75 to 106 lb).
The pronghorn has a yellowish-brown to reddish-brown colored fur with a white underside, and white stripes on the neck and around the mouth. Male pronghorns also have black markings on the neck and face.
The horns of the pronghorn help make it unique: they are a cross between horns and antlers, with qualities of both. True antlers are made of bone and shed each year; true horns are made of compressed keratin that grows from a bony core and are never shed. The horns adorning the pronghorn are neither true horns nor true antlers. Instead, the sheath is made of keratin but the horns shed yearly.
True horns have only one point, not the prongs or forks that antlers have. Yet the male (buck) pronghorn’s horns can grow to be 10 inches (25 centimeters) long with a forward-facing prong. Hence its name: pronghorn. Female pronghorn (called does) also have horns, but they are much smaller. Pronghorn are the only animals in the world that have forked horns that shed each year!
The running gait of the pronghorn is beautifully smooth and their powerful legs can carry them at a remarkable pace across the roughest kind of terrain.
The pronghorn is the fastest land mammal in the New World, being built for maximum predator evasion through running.
The top speed is very hard to measure accurately and varies between individuals; it can run 56 km/h for 6 km (35 mph for 4 mi), 67 km/h for 1.6 km (42 mph for 1 mi), and 88.5 km/h for 0.8 km (55 mph for 0.5 mi).
It is often cited as the second-fastest land animal, second only to the cheetah. It can, however, sustain high speeds longer than cheetahs.
A pronghorn is both diurnal and nocturnal, meaning that it may be active in the day and at night. It may move up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) a day, and the male marks territory with its scent glands.
A pronghorn is very curious and has excellent eyesight and depth perception. It can spot slight movements up to 5 kilometers (3 miles) away.
Pronghorn have the largest eyes of any North American ungulate in relation to body size. Each eyeball is about 3,6 centimeters (1.4 inches) in diameter.
Large protruding eyes provide pronghorn with a 320° field of vision, and long, black eyelashes act as sun-visors.
Their body temperature is 38 °C (100 °F).
Pronghorns are mostly social animals. During winter, pronghorn form large mixed-sex and-age herds of up to 1,000 individuals. In spring, they split into smaller bands of females, bachelor groups of males between 1–5 years old, and solitary older males.
Mating season for pronghorn antelopes lasts from September through October. Males will fight over females. A male may mate with more than one female. The gestation period is about 250 days and births are synchronous, with all females giving birth within a few days of each other. Females give birth to one or two fawns in the spring.
The newborns can take their first wobbly steps just 30 minutes after birth. At four days old, they can outrun humans, and in one week, they are able to run faster than a horse, if needed. The baby pronghorns depend on their mothers’ milk until they attain the age of weaning at 4 or 5 months.
Nearly exterminated in the late 19th century, pronghorns have returned to great abundance with the help of dedicated conservation efforts.
The protection of habitat and hunting restrictions have allowed pronghorn numbers to recover to an estimated population between 500,000 and 1,000,000.