Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists Crack Rhino Horn Riddle

Date:
November 11, 2006
Source:
Ohio University
Summary:
Rhinoceros horns have long been objects of mythological beliefs. Some cultures prize them for their supposed magical or medicinal qualities. Others have used them as dagger handles or good luck charms. But new research at Ohio University removes some of the mystique by explaining how the horn gets its distinctive curve and sharply pointed tip.

Drawing of rhino skull with CT-based images of horns in place. Redder colors represent denser portions. (Art by: Ohio University)

Rhinoceros horns have long been objects of mythological beliefs. Some cultures prize them for their supposed magical or medicinal qualities. Others have used them as dagger handles or good luck charms. But new research at Ohio University removes some of the mystique by explaining how the horn gets its distinctive curve and sharply pointed tip.

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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ohio University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Ohio University. "Scientists Crack Rhino Horn Riddle." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 November 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061106144951.htm>.
Ohio University. (2006, November 11). Scientists Crack Rhino Horn Riddle. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061106144951.htm
Ohio University. "Scientists Crack Rhino Horn Riddle." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061106144951.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

AP (July 23, 2014) 'Ray' the robotic parking valet at Dusseldorf Airport in Germany lets travelers to avoid the hassle of finding a parking spot before heading to the check-in desk. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Boeing Ups Outlook on 52% Profit Jump

Boeing Ups Outlook on 52% Profit Jump

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 23, 2014) Commercial aircraft deliveries rose seven percent at Boeing, prompting the aerospace company to boost full-year profit guidance- though quarterly revenues missed analyst estimates. Bobbi Rebell reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Europe's Car Market on the Rebound?

Europe's Car Market on the Rebound?

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 23, 2014) Daimler kicks off a round of second-quarter earnings results from Europe's top carmakers with a healthy set of numbers - prompting hopes that stronger sales in Europe will counter weakness in emerging markets. Hayley Platt reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
9/11 Commission Members Warn of Terror "fatigue" Among American Public

9/11 Commission Members Warn of Terror "fatigue" Among American Public

Reuters - US Online Video (July 22, 2014) Ten years after releasing its initial report, members of the 9/11 Commission warn of the "waning sense of urgency" in combating terrorists attacks. Mana Rabiee reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins