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Real-Life “Unicorn” Discovered in Slovenia; Deer Has Extremely Bizarre Deformity


Image credit: Eva Klevska, National Geographic, Slovenia

Actually, it is not the skull of a legendary unicorn, but it might be possibly the closest you could have apart from a pony dressed in fancy dress. However, it is the real skull of a roe deer in Slovenia.

It is quite common to find antler deformities deer. Though there might be different reasons for such developmental abnormalities, the most frequently thought cause is attributed to an injury due to a bash to a buck’s skull or pedicle, the permanent outgrowth, from where the antler grows, or the injury occurred to a deer’s hind leg.

There are the various types of antler abnormalities in terms of shapes and sizes. However, this unique example is extremely rare, which aroused the interest of biologist Boštjan Pokorny, because he had never come across such thing before.

In the interview with National Geographic, Pokorny said, the antlers of a roe deer are generally symmetrical and developed from two separate pedicles; however, the pedicles of this particular buck seemed to be merged into one. It was common to see a deer with just one antler; the other could be lost for some reasons. This buck was rare, because it grew with kind of an unusual deformity, which might be caused by an injury during the early development of the antlers.

With just one antler, it might result in some disadvantages for bucks, because they would fight against each other and draw attentions from the females by such bony structures when they were in mating season. However this unique buck lived a ripe old age and its weight was above average when it died. As Pokorny explained, the possible reason for this should be attributed to the fact that mating success was mainly related to age and body size of a roe deer, so it did not necessarily own a remarkable set of antlers.

Antlers were regarded as quite amazing things. Unlike most of animal horns consisting of a combination of keratin and bone, antlers were entirely incorporated with bone. However, rhinoceroses were quite different, because their horns were are completely composed of keratin, which was the exact stuff of which our hair and nails were made. In addition, different from the permanent horns, antlers were generally grown and shed in the cycle of a year.

As for various species of deer, the growth of antler was stimulated by enhancement of testosterone levels that were caused by longer period of time under sunlight in spring and summer. During spring, the growing antler largely consisted of soft tissue, being covered by a fluffy layer of skin, namely velvet. At this moment, the antler had high sensitivity to injury, thus any kicks or knocks could result in the developmental abnormalities.

In the summer time, growth could rapidly speed up and some antlers would grow by two inches every week. When the antlers got to their final shape, the growth rate would be slowed down remarkably and the outer layer began to be mineralized into compact bone. After the completion the breeding season, the area of bone in which the pedicle met with the antler was broken down by cells known as  osteoclasts, which in the end would allow them to drop.

Source: National Geographic