Ask A Scientist: A Rhino’s Horn Isn’t for Making Music

Rambunctious Rhino wonders, “Why does the rhino have horns?”


Great question, Rambunctious Rhino!

There are actually five different species of rhinoceros, but all of them have horns! The Asian species–Javan rhinos, greater one-horned rhinos, and Sumatran rhinos–have one horn on their snout, just above their nose. The African rhinos–the white and black rhino–have two, with a smaller, cone-shaped one right behind a long front horn. Their horns are made out of keratin, the same thing our hair and fingernails are made out of. Imagine having a giant fingernail on your face!

Rhinos use their horns for many things, such as protecting their babies from predators like lions, fighting each other over their favorite grass patches, breaking through dense bushes while traveling, and to dig around in the ground to find water! Horns might even be helpful for guiding their young through the bushy savanna. Their horns can do a lot! However, even though rhinos are sometimes called chubby unicorns, rhinos and their horns do not have magical healing properties.

Scientists have described many uses rhinos might have for their horns, but to be honest we’re really not sure which of these are the most important to them! So, back to your question, it’s hard to say why exactly they got them in the first place. This is just one reason why we need more people (like you!) asking questions and studying them! Can you think of any other reasons why horns might be useful to rhinos?

-Alice, the big herbivore scientist


Alice is a PhD student in the Animal Behavior Graduate Group at UC Davis.

Main image [provided by Alice Michel]: A rhino and her baby standing in the brush.


Interested in learning more about rhinos? You can click through this WWF website to learn more about each species! Find out about current issues impacting their conservation from Save the Rhino.

If you have any questions about animals for our scientists, you can submit them here.

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