Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Reindeer Games: 8 Surprising Facts About Reindeer

A reposting of an original article from December, 2017.

A Swedish reindeer watches you. Photo by Alexandre Buisse at Wikimedia Commons.

1. Reindeer are caribou (kinda): Reindeer are the same species as caribou (with the scientific name Rangifer tarandus), but the terms are not completely interchangeable. Rangifer tarandus is a species of deer that is native to Northern regions of Europe, Siberia and North America, which includes many different habitat types, like arctic, subarctic, tundra, snow forest and mountains. These variations in harsh environments have led to variations among populations, resulting in multiple subspecies. The Rangifer tarandus subspecies that live in North America are commonly called caribou and the subspecies that live in Europe and Siberia are commonly called reindeer. We also often refer to domesticated populations as reindeer, regardless of where they are.

A map of reindeer and caribou distributions. Image by TBjornstad at Wikimedia Commons.

2. Rudolf’s red nose was an adaptation: Technically, reindeer don’t have red noses, but they do have lots extra blood flow in them. The inside of their noses are twisted and vascularized so the warm blood can heat up the frigid Arctic air before it gets into the lungs.

3. Santa’s reindeer were probably girls: Not only do reindeer have the biggest antlers of all deer species (relative to body size), but they are the only deer species in which both males and females grow antlers. Both males and females use their antlers to scrape through the snow and look for food, but males also use their antlers to compete with one another and impress the ladies during the breeding season. Unlike horns, antlers shed and regrow every year, and this process is regulated by sex hormones. When the new antlers grow in spring, they are made up of cartilage and lots of blood vessels and are covered in a furry skin called velvet. The blood carries lots of calcium into the antlers, which helps them to grow and harden into bone. When testosterone levels drop in males at the end of their breeding season in early December, their antlers fall off. Females, however, generally keep their antlers until March or April. So, if Santa’s reindeer had antlers at the end of December, they were probably female!

4. If you’re going to pick an animal to travel the world in one night, reindeer are a good choice: Some North American caribou migrate over 3,000 miles a year (more than any other land mammal). They can run up to 50 miles per hour and swim over 6 miles per hour. Migration herds can be up to 500,000 animals and baby reindeer learn to run within two hours of birth!

A swimming caribou herd. Photo by Lestar Kovac at Wikimedia Commons.

5. Reindeer eat weird stuff: Like cows, reindeer are ruminants, which means their stomachs have multiple compartments, some of which specialize in maintaining microbial communities to help them digest. Unlike cows, reindeer predominantly eat lichen, which are combinations of algae and fungi that are typically high in carbohydrates and low in proteins. To make up for this low amount of protein in their diet, reindeer may occasionally eat rodents and bird eggs.

6. They have the coolest feet: Their hooves have four toes: two that splay out like snow shoes and two dew claws. Their hooves have sharp edges to dig for food and are paddle-shaped for swimming. Their hooves even change with the seasons to provide the best traction, being softer in the summer when the ground is soft and hard in the winter to walk on slippery snow and ice.

7. Some reindeer use clicking knees to communicate: Some subspecies have knees that click when tendons slip over bone extensions in their feet. They use this sound to stay with their herd, even when weather conditions limit visibility. But because larger reindeer have larger legs and therefore make louder knee-clicks, they also use these sounds to establish dominance.

8. Reindeer are the only mammals that can see UV light: They have a reflective layer in the back of their eyes that is golden in summer and blue in winter. When it is blue, this allows reindeer to see contrasts in UV light, such as lichen (which absorbs UV) versus snow (which reflects UV).

1 comment:

  1. Such an amazing blog post….very informative also…. I gain a lot of information from this..thanks for sharing it..
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