Scientists have discovered new details about the structural materials that form the horn and the role those materials play in the development of the horn’s characteristic shape.
The horns of most animals have a bony core covered by a thin sheath of keratin, the same substance as hair and nails. Rhino horns are unique, however, because they are composed entirely of keratin. Scientists had been puzzled by the difference, but the Ohio University study now has revealed an interesting clue: dark patches running through the center of the horns.
The team examined the heads of rhinos that died of natural causes and were donated by The Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio, and the Phoenix Zoo. Researchers conducted CT scans on the horns at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens and found dense mineral deposits made of calcium and melanin in the middle.
The calcium deposits make the horn core harder and stronger, and the melanin protects the core from breakdown by the sun’s UV rays, the scientists report. The softer outer portion of the horn weakens with sun exposure and is worn into its distinctive shape through horn clashing and by being rubbed on the ground and vegetation. The structure of the rhino horns is similar to a pencil’s tough lead core and weaker wood periphery, which allows the horns to be honed to a sharp point.
The study also ends speculation that the horn was simply a clump of modified hair.
“The horns most closely resemble the structure of horses’ hoofs, turtle beaks and cockatoo bills. This might be related to the strength of these materials, although more research is needed in this area,” said Tobin Hieronymus, a doctoral student in biological sciences and lead author on the study.
The study also found that the melanin and calcium patches appear in yearly growth surges but the effects of temperature, diet and stress on the growth are still unknown. The results of the horn growth study may be of interest to conservation groups whose goal is to strengthen rhino populations and reduce the poaching of horn for the black market.
“Ultimately, we think our findings will help dispel some of the folk wisdom attached to the horn. The more we can learn about the horn, the better we can understand and manage rhino populations in the wild and in captivity,” said Lawrence Witmer, a professor of anatomy in Ohio University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and director of the project.
The Journal of Morphology published the research findings in its October issue. Witmer and Ryan Ridgely were co-authors of the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and conducted with the assistance of O’Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens, Ohio, and The Wilds, an Ohio animal preserve.
Andrea Gibson | EurekAlert!
Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
28.06.2017 | Health and Medicine