Press Release

November’s ‘Wildlife Express’ tries to catch up with the American pronghorn, the Porsches of the plains

If a cheetah and a pronghorn ran the 5,000 meter, who would win?

Pronghorn are unlike any other animal in the American West. Not to be confused with their African lookalikes — the antelope —pronghorn occupy a mix of landscapes across southern and eastern Idaho and into the central Idaho mountains (and grace the cover of this month’s Wildlife Express.)

These iconic ungulates are the only member of the family Antilocapridae and are the fastest animal in North America for a very interesting reason. Reaching cruising speeds of 45 miles per hour, pronghorn use large amounts of flat ground to evade predators such as coyotes and bobcats.

Wondering how these speed demons got their name? Males and females both have horns, but it’s the male’s “pronged” horn — a short branch coming off the main beam — that gives pronghorn their namesake. Females’ horns are usually less than 4 inches long.

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If you’ve ever wondered how a pronghorn spotted you across a 700-yard field, it’s due in large part to their massive 1 ½-inch eyeballs, the same size as a horse’s eye. Pronghorn have been known to spot targets (or predators) up to four miles away. Think about that next time you’re trying to sneak up on these sharp-eyed animals. 

Newborn pronghorn — aka fawns — are about the size of a human baby when born and arguably cuter (no offense, moms, your baby is beautiful, too). Fawns come out a gray color, which helps camouflage them from predators. Within a few days, they can follow their mothers, and at about two months old, pronghorn have already developed their incredible sprinting ability.

But it isn’t until they reach full maturity that pronghorns earn the distinction of fastest animal in North America. At top speeds of 60 miles per hour and cruising speeds of 30-45, pronghorn fall just a little short of outrunning an African cheetah.

So what’s the point of having such a need for speed? All that muscle under the hood is a result of ancient pronghorn adapting to outrun large cats tens of thousands of years ago. Saber-toothed cats, lions and American cheetahs all roamed North America at one time, hot on the heels of modern pronghorn ancestors. Those predators have long-been extinct, but generations of pronghorns have retained their speed for thousands of years.

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Pronghorn Facts

  • Their lungs are two to four times larger than a similar-sized animal.
  • A pronghorn’s blood is rich with hemoglobin which increases the amount of oxygen in its muscles.
  • They’re not fat; they’re big boned. Literally. Pronghorn have super sturdy, thick bones — twice as thick as a cow’s leg bone.
  • When they spot danger, pronghorn will raise the white hairs on their rumps to warn others in the herd.
  • Does are pregnant for about 250 days and give birth in May or June.
  • First-time mothers usually have one fawn, but after that they usually have twins.
  • Pronghorn fossils have been found in North America that are over one million years old.
  • Scientists believe that pronghorn were once the most common animal on the American plains.
  • If you get close enough to a pronghorn, many people say they smell like Frito Lay corn chips.

Interested in learning more about antelo… — I mean, pronghorn? Go check out Fish and Game’s monthly newsletter for kids, Wildlife Express, and try to keep up with these sprinters of the sage.

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Connor Jay Liess / Idaho Fish and Game