Pronghorn in the Snow

 

We woke to our first significant snowfall of the season yesterday morning. In the winter pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americanna) gather together in large mixed-sex herds. I often sit in my car waiting, and counting, as groups as large as 300 animals cross the road.

This group in Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc County CA) numbered only about a hundred individuals, not all of which are in the pictures. They looked striking against the snow. By using the fence as a shield I was able to move very close to these pronghorn. With remarkable eyesight, the pronghorn can detect movement three or four miles away on a clear day. These animals certainly knew I was slowly approaching but, although wary, did not move off.

Pronghorn antelope hair is brittle and is composed of numerous pithy air cells which provide protection from cold and heat. In the summer the coat is light and thin. The winter pelage is thick with longer hair. Pronghorn is useless for fur because the hair breaks and falls out with slight pressure.

An interesting thing about pronghorn is that they employ heliographic (signaling by reflected light) messaging. The pronghorn has a large white patch on its rump that has two muscular discs. When the animal is alarmed or disturbed the disc muscles contract and the white hairs arise abruptly in a flash of white. The patch can be seen at a distance by other pronghorn, who in turn flex their disc patches to repeat the warning across the plains.

Leonard and I are fortunate to live where large herds of pronghorn are common. No matter how often I see these tawny ungulates (cud chewers or ruminants), they always excite us.

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2 Responses to Pronghorn in the Snow

  1. Pingback: Antilocapridae | The Nature Niche

  2. Pingback: Male Pronghorn Herd | The Nature Niche

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