Monday Mammal #1: Pronghorn

Monday, April 19, 2010 at 8:09 AM Bookmark and Share
I have a soft spot for cold blooded creatures, but that isn't to say I'm indifferent to those hot blooded, fur covered mammals. So what better use of all those mammal photos filling up my hard drive than yet another weekly series?
(...brief pause to think about that question...)

Yeah, same here - I couldn't think of anything better to do with them either - so weekly series it is!  With that, I bring you the first Monday Mammal from my home state of Colorado: the Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana).

Figure 1: A small herd of pronghorn around sunset in eastern Colorado in January, 2010.
This was shortly after Dr. Wife and I got hitched, and were headed to New Mexico for the
honeymoon. This group is feeding on walking stick cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia imbricata).

Despite being ruminant artiodactyls and bearing a close resemblance to true antelope (family Bovidae, along side cows and sheep), pronghorn are the only extant species in the family Antilocapridae and are apparently more closely related to giraffes and the okapi than anything else alive today.  There are currently five recognized subspecies: the nominate American (A. a. americana), Oregon (A. a. oregona), Mexican (A. a. mexicana), peninsula (A. a. peninsularis), and Sonoran (A. a. sonoriensis).

Quick story: Back when I was an undergraduate, I was lucky enough to help state wildlife officials in the capture and transport of some pronghorn from an area where they were in overabundance to an area looking to bolster their numbers.

Figure 2: Dropping the net in 3... 2... 1...

Catching them went something like this...
  1. Herd them into a large V-shaped section of fence with a helicopter.
  2. Drive across the prairie in the bed of one of at least 5 trucks full of people.
  3. Form a line across the top of the V, and drive the herd into a large net (see the second photo above).
  4. Drop the net.
  5. Sprint like mad towards the trap to hold each individual down so they didn't hurt themselves or one another.
  6. Hobble and blindfold them to keep them calm and manageable.
  7. Move them into the transport trailors for relocation.
Fun facts about Pronghorn that I learned that day: (1) their fur is covered in a musky oil that is near impossible to wash out of clothes; (2) 99% of the time, pronghorn don't jump over fences, they dive through them; and (3) they're amazing runners in part due to their surprisingly thin legs

If you'd like to know more about these unique critters, check out the Pronghorn page on the University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web.

Update: For more, check out this fantastic post on "speedgoats" by Darren Naish over at Tetrapod Zoology.

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