Rhino with two horns close up
Rhino Horns

Why Do Rhinos Have Horns? (6 Purposes)

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  • Post category:Rhinos
  • Post last modified:9 November 2021
  • Reading time:8 mins read

Most people believe that rhinos do not use their horns for any purpose. However, there are many ways a rhino will use its horns in various situations. Below are some that I have observed them doing, and if you watch the rhinos closely when you visit a zoo or watch any documentaries you will quickly see that rhino horns do have a purpose.

Horn Amounts Of The Different Rhino Species

Rhino SpeciesAmount
Black Rhino (Female)Two Horns
Black Rhino (Male)Two Horns
Jarvan Rhino (Female)One Horn
Jarvan Rhino (Male)One Horn
Sumatran Rhino (Female)Two Horns
Sumatran Rhino (Male)Two Horns
The Greater One-Horned Rhino (Female)One Horn
The Greater One-Horned Rhino (Male)One Horn
White Rhino (Female)Two Horns
White Rhino (Male)Two Horns
Horns of male and female rhino species

1. Intimidation

Rhinos are one of the most territorial mammals on earth. Once a male rhino defines its territory and reigns on it, he does not allow dominant males to enter his area, much like the hippos, which are also very territorial. Rhinos use their horns for posturing. Hippos will open their mouths very wide and show off their teeth to intimidate other animals.

Most of the time, the rhinos intimidate other male rhinos by posturing menacingly towards them. In this way, most of the time, rhinos avoid a fight.

While posturing, the rhinos lower their heads and charge straightly towards the animals encroaching on its area. This showcasing of strength and the Horn often works like a charm for the overly territorial male rhinos.

2. Attraction

Rhinos often use their horns for attracting their mates. Among the rhinos, the Horn is a primary indicator of a strong mate. The larger the Horn of a rhino is, the more attractive it becomes in the females’ eyes and the easier it is for the male to find a mate. 

3. Defence

Both the African rhino species use their horns for defending themselves or their territory. If the rhinos cannot stall the fight by posturing and threatening menacingly, they will use their Horn to fight. 

Even though rhino horns are made of keratin, the horns are strong and sharp enough to penetrate the thick hide of the rhinos.

Even though the bodyweight of the rhinoceros is pretty heavy, these animals are surprisingly fast on their feet. So the quick charge towards enemies can create significant damages. 

Almost one-third of the female black rhinoceros and half of the male black rhinoceroses die from fighting with each other.

4. Digging

Rhinos also use their sharp horns for digging holes in the dry compact land. If there is not enough grass available in the area, the rhinos use their horns to search the ground to find edible roots or other small plants. Even if there is no edible root around, the Rhinos often dig through the dirt to access smaller and shorter grasses. Rhinos also dig dry river beds when they are desperate for a drink.

5. Mother Duties

Female rhinos often use their horns for steering their babies around. Mothers keep showing this kind of behaviour until their baby rhinos are capable enough to navigate around independently.

6. Border Control

The male Rhinos use their horns for gathering excrement into a pile on the border of their territory. This way, they often mark their territory.

Do all rhinos have horns?

Yes, all adult species of rhinos will have either one horn or two horns. All baby rhinos are born without horns but later grow when they get older. Rhinos that have sadly been poached for their horns will have none until they slowly grow back.

Do rhino horns grow back after being cut off

Yes, rhino horns do grow back however this process is extremely slow and depends on where the cut was made. Rhino horns are made of the same substance as nails and hair which continue to grow.

What are rhino horns made of?

The rhino horns are made of keratin, the same protein that helps create nails and hair. 

Why do rhinos rub their horns on surfaces?

Rhinos keep their horns sharp by rubbing them on rough surfaces. This rubbing behaviour helps the rhinos remove the softer outer part of the Horn, making the horns even sharper.

Why do some rhinos have two horns?

The horns of the rhino are nothing but their simple physical features. Even though the rhinos use their horns to dig holes or fight each other, their number of horns only depend on the species. For example, black rhinos, white rhinos, and Sumatran rhinos have two horns, while the Java rhinos only have one.

Two Horned Rhinos

Among the rhinos that have two horns, the front one grows quicker than the second one. It is also the larger of the two horns.

The two-horned rhinoceros are considered endangered species because of their habitat loss, slow rate of reproduction, and poaching. Two-horned rhinoceros are one of the rarest animals in the world.

Poachers kill the rhinos for their horns. Many people believe that rhinos horns can ensure great physical benefits and has magical healing capabilities. Sadly the rhinos pay the price for this make-believe and never proven act. This belief has created an illegal market that shamefully instigates poaching.

You can see two horns in both Sumatran and African rhinos. However, the Indian and the Java rhinos come with only one Horn. According to the IUCN red list, the Sumatran and the Javanese rhinoceros are considered critically endangered species.

Sumatran rhino, also known as Asian two-horned rhinoceros, is one of the five species of rhinoceros that roam on the earth. It is the smallest of all the rhinoceros species. However, compared to the other mammals, the Sumatran rhino is still considered quite large. 

The Sumatran and the African two-horned rhinos have two separate horn-like structures with one more prominent nasal Horn and a stub. The more prominent nasal Horn is generally 15 to 25 cm long, while the stub grows about 5 to 10 cm in length.

Where did the ancient two-horned rhinos used to live?

The two-horned rhino species once used to roam on the jungles of Bhutan, India, Bangladesh, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the water bodies, rainforests, and cloud forests of China. Mammal historians believe that once upon a time, two-horned rhinoceroses lived in the South-Western region of China, especially Sichuan Province.

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Teresa Milne

Teresa is learning zoology and loves to share her knowledge through her articles. She has some pets that she adores two dogs, two cats, and one hamster. Teresa has also studied canine behaviour and canine nutrition.