Pronghorn are unlike any other animal in the American West. Not to be confused with their African counterparts – the antelope – pronghorn inhabit a mix of landscapes in southern and eastern Idaho and in the mountains of central Idaho (and grace this month’s cover Wildlife Express.)
The only member of the Antilocapridae family, these iconic ungulates are the fastest animals in North America for a very interesting reason. Reaching cruising speeds of 45 miles per hour, pronghorn use large amounts of flat ground to avoid predators such as coyotes and lynx.
Wondering where these speed demons got their name from? Males and females both have horns, but it’s the male’s “pronged” horn — a short branch that branches off from the main beam — that gives the pronghorn its name. Females’ horns are typically less than 4 inches long.
If you’ve ever wondered how a pronghorn spotted you in a 700-yard field, it’s in large part due to its massive 1½-inch eyeballs, which are the same size as a horse’s eye. Pronghorn have been known to spot targets (or predators) up to four miles away. Keep that in mind the next time you try to sneak up on these sharp-eyed beasts.
Newborn pronghorns — also known as fawns — are about the same size as a human baby when they’re born, and arguably cuter (no offense moms, your baby is beautiful too). Fawns are gray in color, which helps camouflage them from predators. Within a few days they can follow their mothers, and by about two months of age, pronghorns have already developed their incredible ability to sprint.
But it’s not until they reach full maturity that pronghorns earn the distinction of being the fastest animal in North America. With top speeds of 60 mph and cruising speeds of 30-45, Pronghorn comes just short of overtaking an African cheetah.
So what does such a need for speed bring? All that muscle under the hood is the result of the ancient pronghorn adapting to outrun big cats tens of thousands of years ago. Saber-toothed cats, lions and American cheetahs all once roamed North America, hot on the heels of the modern ancestors of the pronghorn. These predators are long extinct, but generations of pronghorn have maintained their speed for thousands of years.
Prong Horn Facts
- Their lungs are two to four times larger than those of a similarly sized animal.
- A pronghorn’s blood is high in hemoglobin, which increases the amount of oxygen in its muscles.
- You are not fat; You have big bones. Literally. Pronghorns have super-strong, thick bones—twice as thick as a cow’s leg bone.
- If they sense danger, the pronghorn will raise the white hairs on their hindquarters to warn others in the herd.
- Females are approximately 250 days pregnant and give birth in May or June.
- First-time mothers usually have a fawn, but after that they usually have twins.
- Pronghorn fossils dating back over a million years have been found in North America.
- Scientists believe that pronghorns were once the most common animal on the American plains.
- If you get close enough to a pronghorn, many people say it smells like Frito Lay corn chips.
Want to know more about antelo… – I mean, pronghorn? Check out Fish and Game’s monthly newsletter for kids, Wildlife Expressand try to keep up with these sprinters of the sage.