Episode 176 – Pronghorn: Fastest in the New World

“And today we’re talking about one of the fastest ungulates west of the Mississippi. But more on that later.”

North America has a few big animals, but it’s mostly dominated by smaller fauna that have learned to thrive in the amber waves of grain. However, America was once a continent like Africa, home to great beasts that made the bison look like a midsized megafauna. It also used to have predators like lions, hyenas, and cheetahs. But there’s one relic of epochs long gone that still follows the old ways of the Pleistocene era. The pronghorn may be a product of its time but sometimes the good old-fashioned lessons still hold up in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


  • Looks like an antelope with short, tan fur on its back, neck and legs
  • Cream-colored fur on it’s jaw, belly, tush, and in strips on its neck for males
  • It has that long, deerish snout and males have a black streak on the top of their snout that stretches up to their brow
  • Their faces are a mottled mix of brown, white, and black fur
  • Males also have two dark grey or black horns that are thick, flat, and relatively short for an antelope-like thing. They are made of flattened bone and are similar to the ossicones of giraffes

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We do have a Measure Up intro this week from our friend Julia. 

Male Length

  • 1.3–1.5 m (4 ft 3 in–4 ft 11 in)
  • How many pronghorns go into the height of the Monks Mound in Cahokia in modern day Illinois?
  • Hint: Cahokia was a large pre-Columbian urban center of the Missisipian culture, which was home to around 18,000 people in 1100 AD. The city had several man-made earthen mounds which supported multi-story buildings.
  • 20.3 pronghorns. The mound is 100 ft (30 m) high.

Male Weight

  • 40–65 kg (88–143 lb)
  • How many pronghorns go into the estimated weight of the extinct giant bison?
  • Hint: The giant bison lived in the Pleistocene North America  and preserved skulls and horns have been found by paleontologists. The horns are much larger than modern bison and they look a little like a longhorn bull in terms of proportions. 
  • 30.7 pronghorns. The giant bison is thought to have weighed as much as 2,000 kg (4,400 lb).

Fast Facts

  • Range: They stay mainly in the plain – but not in Spain. They live in the great plains of North America on both the Eastern and Western slopes of the Rockies from Mexico to Canada.
  • Diet: Like most land ungulates, they exclusively eat plants. Shrubs, grasses, cacti. They also chew the cud.
  • Behavior: 
    • The females live in girls-only clubs and the males live solitary lone-wolf lives.
    • Males will either defend a fixed area that he hopes a gaggle will wander into or they will defend the gaggle themselves.
    • Females will “sample” males as heat approaches so they save time and have a suitor lined up. 
  • Predation: coyotes, wolves, grizzlys (ursus horriblis), bobcats, golden eagles, cougars, and even jaguars.

Major Fact: Faster Than the Competition

Pronghorns are among the fastest land animals in the world and they’re definitely the fastest runner in the Americas. They can reach speeds as fast as 55 mph (88.5 km/ph) over a distance of a half mile. While this is slower than a cheetah’s top speed at around 70 mph, pronghorns are faster than cheetahs over long distances. 

While a cheetah and other high performance runners exhaust themselves very quickly at high speeds, the pronghorn can maintain high speeds for longer. They can run:

  • 42 mph for 1 mile
  • 35 mph for 4 miles

Their speeds make them untouchable to typical predators that try to chase them down. Even wolves that hunt by dogging a single individual for miles can be left in the dust by a pronghorn. Other predators like eagles can pick off small pronghorns with air superiority. 

The animal with the most success in preying on pronghorns is the coyote. Coyotes use stealth to pick off pronghorn fawns. However, some evidence suggests that pronghorn fawns have a higher survival rate in wolf territories. Wolves are extremely hostile to coyotes in their territories. 

But why are pronghorns so fast compared to the predators in their environment?

If you look at a pronghorn, it seems like it would fit in better in Africa. It looks like it’s cousin the antelope. This may be because they’re relics from a time when North America looked more like Africa in terms of megafauna. 

North American used to have lions, large lean fast-running bears, and even cheetahs. It’s thought that the pronghorns developed their speed in a foot race with faster predators. Those fast predators died off and left behind slower ancestors, but the pronghorn never lost its ability to kick up smoke.

Ending: So stay mainly in the plain, chew the cud, and feel the need…the need for speed like the pronghorn here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.