Though its scientific name translates to “American antelope goat,” pronghorns are not part of the antelope family. These mammals have deer-like bodies covered in short, reddish-brown fur with white patches on their cheeks, chest, belly, rump and legs. Both male and female pronghorns have horns.
Pronghorns are very adapted to life in the grasslands. They have large, protruding eyes located further back on their heads, giving them a wide field of vision that can spot a predator up to six kilometres away. They are incredibly fast and efficient runners. Their long, skinny legs are built for big strides, and their large hearts and lungs help bring more oxygen to their muscles, allowing them to run at sustained speeds of 50-70 kilometres per hour over long distances.
Pronghorns live in herds in the prairies and graze on grass and small plants. Their main predators are coyotes. Pronghorns mate in the late summer and early fall, and give birth to one or two fawns in the late spring. When they are born, fawns are almost odorless to protect them from predators. At about a week old, fawns join the herd.
Pronghorns roam the Great Plains of North America into northern Mexico. In Canada, they reside in southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta. While they are capable of jumping, they cannot leap the fences that are now common throughout the grasslands. Scientists are working with ranchers to create fences that pronghorns can crawl under.
Fast Facts: Pronghorn
Scientific name: Antilocapra americana
Average height: 81 to 100 centimetres
Average weight: 40 to 60 kilograms
Average lifespan: Seven to 10 years in the wild
Although its scientific name means “American antelope goat,” the pronghorn is not an antelope. In fact, its closest living relatives are the giraffe and the okapi.
One theory holds that pronghorns evolved their super speed because they once shared the North American grasslands with equally fast, long-extinct predators resembling cheetahs.
Although they’re the second-fastest land animal on Earth, pronghorns never evolved to jump over fences. They usually try to crawl under them, which slows them down and gives predators a chance to catch up.
Did you know?
The pronghorn can run at speeds of up to 92 kilometres per hour, making it the fastest land animal in North America and the second-fastest in the world after the cheetah!