The Essays of Frances Williams ~ October, 1972

Published May 13th 2017 in Wildlife, Pronghorn, Animal Behavior

Southwestern Midland County is the place to go for a Sunday after¬noon drive, as it is the best part of the County to see hawks and the only part where Pronghorn "antelopes" are regularly found. H. L. Crosby of the Texas Parks and Wildlife department reports there are about 150 Pronghorns in Midland County, which will surprise those who thought all the big game animals had long since disappeared from this area.

The Pronghorn is a horned, even-toed, hoofed, cud-chewing ungulate, but it is the lone member of a family of its own - the Antilocapridae. Its scientific name means "goat-antelope", but early settlers in the plains called it an "antelope" and this erroneous name still persists. Pronghorns are not found anywhere in the world except the plains of North America.

The Pronghorn has true horns like cattle, not antlers like deer. The horns of a Pronghorn are composed of a hollow black outer sheath over a bony core. The outer sheath is shed each year, but not the bony core. The Pronghorn is the only horned animal that sheds its horns, and the only one whose horns are branched or pronged. The antlers of deer and elk are all bone and drop off entirely each year. Cattle never shed their horns.

Many North American ungulates have rump patches lighter in color than their main body hair - mule deer, bighorn sheep and elk. But none of them spreads the rump patch hair. When a Pronghorn is alarmed, it spreads the hairs of its white rump patch until they stand straight up and form a startling white rosette. At the same time, scent glands on the rump give off a musky odor.

Pronghorns are probably the fastest American mammal, for they can run at speeds up to 45 miles an hour. This speed and their far-sighted eyes make them particularly adapted for living in the treeless plains. But curiosity kills the Pronghorn as well as the cat. Almost anything strange arouses their interest and they can be lured close by waving a white rag. Legend has it that they were so intrigued by the covered wagons that hunters charged with providing meat for the wagon trains had only to wait until the Pronghorns came to investigate these strange moving objects.

Pronghorns do not compete seriously with cattle for food, as Pronghorns much prefer weeds to grass. They seem to have a particular fondness for flowers. Some of their favorites are groundsel, paper daisy, mentzelia and cutleaf daisy. Although both groundsel and paper daisy are poisonous to cattle, Pronghorns eat them without ill effects. They can go for long periods without water, evidently getting all the liquid they need from their food.

The next time you wish there were someplace close worth driving to, go south from Terminal on the Pegasus road and take the loop around the Parks oil field. Drive slowly and keep your eyes open. You might be fortunate enough to see a herd of Pronghorns.