The end goal is to have human like beings with vestigial horns or antlers, but I am unsure of what types of horns they should be. Apparently there are three type of horn:

  1. living horn-bony outgrowths covered in keratin(sheep/cow/goat)
  2. antlers- which grow, die and fall of annually in adults (deer/elk/moose)
  3. keratin horns- made of keratin, the stuff of hair, nail and hoof(rhino)

which of these would most feasibly develop in the common ancestor of old and new world monkeys? for example, whichever of the these three types is the lightest would be better for arboreal simians

  • $\begingroup$ since no ancestor of monkeys had horns, what are you looking for? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 8, 2017 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ which of the three would most likely develop in primates $\endgroup$
    – Eloc
    Apr 8, 2017 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ which of the these three types is likely to be the lightest $\endgroup$
    – Eloc
    Apr 8, 2017 at 21:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ As far as we know antlers have only evolved once so having them evolve again is unlikely, on the other hand both pure keratin and keratin over bone have evolved multiple times so either of the other two is fine. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 8, 2017 at 23:03

3 Answers 3


Couple of initial points:

  • Humans haven't evolved from any of the apes we see today we only share a common ancestor. This means that whilst we may speculate about our ancestors based on some traits modern apes have these are only assumptions.

  • Evolution doesn't necessarily need the function to exist prior to the mutation.

That being said evolution is a random process, it is the selection which is not. There may well have been a member of an ancestor species which did evolve horns but since there was no advantage to it the mutation didn't persist.

So we need to look at what makes horns useful.

  • Mating rituals are an example where a species decided to use some aspect of themselves (colourful feathers, large horns, larger vocal range) to give them a better chance of reproducing.

    • The chance of this evolving is higher where we have competitive intrasexual selection. If there was little else to make a mate stand out horns may become a factor and so grow in size.
  • Defense - horns could be protection from blows to the head. Here we would expect to see a larger forward facing surface area as in shield plates or highly curved horns. These would also be used to return the attack.

    • To evolve these we will want an environment where our ancestors had a need to defend themselves from blows to the head.
  • Weapons - antlers are suspected to have little evolutionary use than as a means of fighting.

    • To evolve these you want a situation where the imposing size and reach of antlers can be used to hunt. (Though balance is more likely to be a problem if your species is standing upright and has wide spread antlers).

(There are also proposed uses of antlers as a means of clearing snow, but this is of no use to a species with hands).

So really you just need to pick the situation within which the horns or antlers you want are most likely to be used and evolve them within that. I believe horns would be more practical (less likely to lose balance) but neither can be ruled out as impossible.

As a side note: Humans can grow horns but they are believed to be some form of tumor rather than an evolutionary trait.


Many of the great apes have a sagittal crest, which is a ridge running along the skull that allows for stronger attachment of chewing muscles. Male gorillas have particularly large crests, which may be a form of displaying mating fitness in addition to its practical use. It is plausible that in some circumstances, runaway sexual selection may promote larger and more elaborate crests, particularly in males.

However, it is unlikely that simian horns would ever be used for fighting. In ungulates, head-butting is a fairly effective means of attack even without horns, thanks to their high running speed and low positioning of the head while charging. This promotes the evolution of hard plates and sharp protuberances that increase the effectiveness of the head as a weapon. Simians, by contrast, tend to bite, scratch, and strike with their hands while fighting. While a primate in a pinch may employ its head as a weapon, it is unlikely that this would ever become their go-to means of attack.

So if a simian species developed horn-like growths on its head, they would probably be more akin to the crests of birds than the horns of ungulates: sexual displays, not practical weapons. Light weight would be more important than strength. I would expect the bony sagittal crest to remain, but the structures on top would be more lightweight and probably shaped in such a way that would minimize the balance problems they would cause in the trees - wide and flat, rather than tall. These crests would probably be more prominent in more robust apes that tend to live on the ground and fight or scare off predators rather than run away. It is also possible that they would be covered in brightly colored fur to increase their visibility.


As already mentioned antler-like horns or other large up sweeping horns are unlikely in a tree dwelling animal because they will get caught in branches and generally cause trouble.

But what about a single smallish horn on the forehead? I haven't found any evidence that it is a real life usage but I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say a monkey or ape could use a horn like that to dig at bark high up in trees to unearth insects hidden inside while using it's hands to maintain it's balance. If it is a larger ape then it could also use the horn to break open small holes in trees where birds might nest to make the holes big enough to reach into and extract eggs or the birds themselves.

A horn of even a few inches could be useful while not impeding anything else and would be a starting point to evolving more impressive headgear further down the line if that is what you are wanting.


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