A hunter in Slovenia recently stumbled upon a creature sporting a single, unicorn-like antler at the top of its head. But could it really be the mythical creature of yore?
It may look like something right out of a fantasy book, but it's very real: It's the remains of a roe deer that was recently shot in Slovenia.
The deformity was likely caused by an injury early in the antlers' development. These sorts of injuries are actually quite common, resulting in strangely-shaped racks. But this particular abnormality is so unusual that the scientist who verified its authenticity, Boštjan Pokorny, said he'd never seen anything like it.
Reporting for National Geographic, Jason Bittel explains:
In many deer species, longer periods of sunlight trigger a release of testosterone in the male deer's body, which in turn spurs antler growth. From spring to fall, the antlers are composed of soft, living tissue, mostly blood and nerves, and are covered by a fuzzy layer of skin often referred to as velvet.
At this point, antlers are extremely sensitive and prone to injury, such as the one the unicorn deer might have suffered.
"If they get hit by a car or get kicked by another deer, well, that can cause abnormal growth for the rest of the year," said Adams.
As daylight and testosterone levels ebb in the fall, antlers mineralize and turn to bone.
When the seasonal cycle is complete, usually in winter, the deer's body begins to reabsorb some of the nutrients at the base of the antler. This weakens the area and allows for the antlers to pop off without injuring the animal.
That's how it works for most deer species—the roe deer actually grows its antlers through the winter and spring and then casts them off in the autumn.
The single antler doesn't appear to have affected the deer's ability to thrive. It was quite old at the time of its death and its weight was above average. And in fact, the hunter who shot the deer chose it because of its advanced age and because of the single antler — he thought the deer had lost its second antler.
Read the entire article at NatGeo.