A unicorn deer is a deer which has developed a rare antler deformity possibly due to an early injury that causes both antlers to grow together as one unicorn like horn. Sometimes deers with only one horn are also called unicorn deers, although they are not true “unicorn deers” and are actually more correctly termed “one horned deer”.
Deer With Unicorn Horn
In August 2014 a hunter in Celje, Slovenia, shot a roe deer that had an extremely rare type of antler deformity. Scientists believe the deformity was likely caused by an injury early in the antlers’ development (although no one really knows for sure how these rare deformations occur).
Although there are a variety of possible causes, such injuries are common in deer and often lead to antler abnormalities, including strangely shaped racks. Possible injuries could be a bash to a buck’s skull or pedicle (the permanent outgrowth from which the antler develops) sustained during a fight, or even an injury to a deer’s hind leg.
These antler abnormalities come in various shapes and sizes, however the roe deer shot in Slovenia is highly unusual. So unusual, that it piqued the interest of biologists, who had never seen anything like it before. Normally, roe deer antlers are symmetrical and grow from two separate pedicles, but this particular buck’s pedicles appear to have merged into one.
Another unicorn deer was born in captivity in the Tuscan town of Prato, near Florence. The roe deer nicknamed “Unicorn” is believed to have been born with a genetic flaw as his twin has the normal two horns.
One Horned Animals
While it seems hard to understand how an injury could result in a deformation such as a unicorn like horn, we need to understand antler growth a little more. That was the subject of a 1984 study in which scientists successfully grafted an antler pedicle onto a fawn’s leg. Yes, that’s right, they moved a pedicle from the head to a leg.
As it turns out pedicles can not only be moved, but also modified. This is usually caused by damage, and injury to the pedicle base has a high chance of leading to deformed antlers. Even injuries to other parts of the body, such as the leg bones, can be reflected in the shape of the antlers. The more serious the injury, the more deformed the rack. In addition, nerves near the antlers will “remember” injuries that the deer has suffered in the past and will produce impacted antlers accordingly.
It’s not uncommon to see a deer with only one antler, which is known as a “spike,” because they can be lost in a number of ways. There are many examples of deer with only one horn.
One Horned Deer & Unicorns
One horned deer whether by genetic mutation or injury do exist and it is likely that they have always existed. It is easy to see how people may have come up with the image and stories of unicorns. From these modern examples, we can surmise that the storytellers and writers of unicorns likely got their inspiration from natures real examples.