Reindeer are such majestic animals who are able to survive in freezing temperature, but there are so much more to them than the animals in the Santa stories
- The nose knows
Unlike Rudolph’s famous nose, those of other reindeer don’t glow red. However, they still have some pretty cool functions to help the reindeer keep warm. For instance, their noses are able to warm up the air they breathe before it enters the lungs. This might be where Robert L May got the idea in 1939 to give Rudolph a red nose. Rudolph was originally designed for a department store as an advertising scheme to help sell more during the month of December.
2. Galloping gliders
Every Christmas reindeer are seen pulling Santa’s sleigh in a variety of animations. Normal reindeer are unable to fly like those of Santa, but they are able to jump and glide elegantly over a river without hassle. It sort of looks like flying – it might be where the inspiration comes from. Reindeer are able to do this because of the way their muscles are formed – like those of a gazelle – and by keeping their legs stiff they easily achieve the elegant leap.
3. The bigger the better
These famous animals are quite fast. Reindeer are able to reach speeds of between 60 and 80km/h. A caribou (as they’re also known) herd usually travels between 19 and 55km a day to meet other herds. They keep on meeting other herds as they migrate together, mainly to calve, until they’re as many as 400,000 individuals in one herd. For them, there is safety in numbers.
4. Antics with antlers
Reindeer’s antlers are fascinating. Males use their antlers in mating season to impress females, and after the mating season the antlers fall off. The antlers grow bigger every time they grow back until the reindeer reaches his senior years, when they start shrinking. While the antlers are growing they are coated in a fur called velvet, and after the antlers are fully grown they shed the layer of fur. The velvet ensures that the owner keeps his antlers out of harm’s way, because the fur is sensitive to the touch.
5. Girl power
It’s speculated that Santa’s sleigh is pulled by female reindeer. Why? Both male and female reindeer have antlers and they shed their antlers at different times during the year. Males generally shed theirs during the months of November and December. They usually fall off one by one, but within the same time period. Since Santa’s reindeer all have antlers in December, they must be female.
6. Click, click
Reindeer have an amazing way of sticking together in a blizzard, snowstorm or fog – they click! The noise helps them to stay together when it’s hard to see. The sound comes from their tendons slipping on bone in the reindeer’s feet. They also communicate in other vocal ways. Females use grunting sounds to communicate with their calves, and calves bawl at their mothers. Males make their own noises, like snorting and bellowing.
7. Fascinating feet
Reindeer have interesting hooves: they are able to change according to the season. During the winter months the hooves shrink to ensure that reindeer don’t slip on the ice and snow. In summer their hooves expand, and the pads underneath become soft and spongy to ensure traction during the wetter conditions.
Reindeer are found mostly in North America as well as Europe, the Arctic and subarctic regions. They are mainly vegetarians, but some have been spotted eating lemmings. Lemmings are small rodents with thick tails. Sometimes they eat magic mushrooms. When humans eat these mushrooms, one side effect is the feeling of flight, which might be where the legend of Santa’s reindeer comes from.
9. Independent streak
Reindeer calves are able to walk within the first hour after birth. Within a week they’re able to eat solid food, and in six months they’re able to fend for themselves. When they reach the age of two they start growing their own set of antlers.
10. Well equipped for winter
Reindeer are built for the cold. They have two layers of fur to ensure that they keep warm in the snow. The fur is so thick that when a reindeer enters the water, he’s able to float. Most reindeer are depicted to be solely one colour, brown, whereas in reality they have white-grey and brown fur. The amount of white and brown depends on the species.