Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Run like an antelope

Thomson's gazelle (Gazella rufifrons) in Ngorongoro Conservation Area,
Tanzania. Look at all those flamingos in the background! What a life, to
run around free and enjoy the birds, without a care, except for lions,
cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas, of course.

The name antelope refers to a wide variety of mammals. Although antelopes are extremely diverse, they all share some basic characteristics.

White-bearded gnu (a subspecies of blue wildebeest (Connochaetes 
taurinus albojubatus) in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania.

Antelopes are even-toed, hoofed mammals. They share this foot morphology with hippopotamuses, warthogs, giraffes, and deer, but none of those are "antelope."

Female eland (Taurotragus oryx) in Akagera National Park, Rwanda.

Antelope are classified in the family "Bovidae" along with cattle (buffalo) and sheep. Something that distinguishes the Bovids from other even-toed, hoofed mammals is that Bovids have horns.

Kongoni (hartebeest) (Alcelaphus buselaphus cokei) in Serengeti 
National Park, Tanzania.


Topi (Damaliscus lunatus) in Akagera National Park, Rwanda.

Antelope have horns, not antlers. Deer, for example, are not antelope. If you think about the common white-tailed deer, you may remember the male has antlers. His antlers branch; horns of Bovids do not branch. Additionally, antlers are shed each year and then regrown. Horns are permanent and do not shed.

Female waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) in Akagera National Park, 
Rwanda.

Most antelope species also exhibit sexual dimorphism. Sizes, coloration patterns, and the presence of horns may differ between the males and females depending on the species. Adult males of all antelope always have horns, but some females have them too. Male and female elands, for example, both have horns but differ in their shade of brown and how much hair they have on their necks. Male impala have horns but females do not (males and females also differ in size but otherwise look the same).

Bush duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia) in Arusha National Park, Tanzania.

Kirk’s dikdik (Madoqua kirkii thomasi) in Tarangire National Park, 
Tanzania.

Antelope vary greatly in size. Eland males can weigh nearly 950 kilograms whereas Kirk's dikdik reaches just 7 kilograms. Some dikdik species are even smaller (2-3 kilograms).

Bohor reedbuck (Redunca redunca) in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Some antelope species live in large herds, such as wildebeest and impala, but others like duikers live alone or in small groups. In some species, like waterbuck and gazelles, in the breeding season, the males split apart from herds and defend a territory. 

Impala  (Aepyceros melampus) in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Uganda Kob (Kobus kob thomasi) in Murchison Falls National Park,
Uganda

All antelope are grazers. What they graze upon depends on their habitat. Antelope inhabit ecosystems from desert to grasslands to dense rainforests. They eat plants and serve as the link in the food chain between the sun and the predators.

Male bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus) in Akagera National Park, Rwanda

Big antelope are preyed upon by lions, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas, but smaller antelope are eaten by a wide variety of predators. Life as an antelope is a life on the move, in search of food and avoiding being the food. Run antelope run!

Works consulted
  • Gomez, W., T. Patterson, J. Swinton and J. Berini. 2011. "Bovidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 31, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Bovidae.html.
  • Kingdon, Jonathan. The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004.
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. "Horns and Antlers." 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed October 31, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/topics/mammal_anatomy/horns_and_antlers.html
  • "Mammals: Antelope." 2011. Zoological Society of San Diego. Accessed October 30, 2011 at http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-antelope.html


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