The truth about Santa’s reindeer

Some misconceptions to the usual assumptions of what powers Santa’s sleigh need to be addressed:

Santa’s reindeer are all female (click on the link to read the article)

Fact #1: those antlered reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are all females. How do we know this? Fact #2: both male and female reindeer have antlers — although the males’ antlers are usually much bigger. And Fact #3: male reindeer shed their antlers in late fall, so that by December, they are antler-less. Ergo — the powerful ones pulling the sleigh are the girls.

Reindeer (i.e., caribou) at the Minnesota Zoo in the summer. It’s easy to pick out the male because of his size: bigger body and much larger antlers than the four females grazing with him.

And this leads inquiring minds to wonder — a) why do female reindeer have antlers at all? (other female members of the deer family do not), and b) why do they have them all winter, only to drop them after their calves are born in the spring?

It would seem to be a great advantage for females to keep those antlers over the winter as they gestate next year’s offspring. They need energy for reproduction, and the food is buried under the snow. Antlers would certainly be useful for removing snow so the reindeer can get to the forage. Larger-bodied males can withstand periods of low food availability better, and need to start re-growing antlers immediately in the spring so they will be ready to compete for mates in the summer and fall.

Now — about that red-nosed leader of Santa’s team. Rudolph, created by Robert May in 1939, is also pictured with antlers, so we must assume he is a she, as well as the rest of the team. But why make such a big deal about the red nose? Is there such a thing as a red-nosed reindeer?

Yes, indeed, reindeer have red-ish noses, and for a good reason, as explained in an article from Smithsonian magazine in 2012.

The rosy pink nose of reindeer in the winter is due to high blood flow to the nasal area, which warms the nasal cavity, and thus the warms up the frigid air reindeer breathe in before it goes to the lungs. In addition, flushing the nasal cavity and head with blood from the central core of the reindeer’s body helps keep the animal’s brain warm. I suspect if we did the same thing when eating a slushy drink (like Jamba juice), we wouldn’t get an ice-cream headache.

So, let your kids and grandkids in on the real power behind Santa’s trip around the world on Christmas eve — female reindeer!

16 thoughts on “The truth about Santa’s reindeer

  1. Pingback: For Whom The Bell Tolls – December 17, 2021 | Twisted Pair News

  2. Sue, this is WONDERFUL!
    We’ve been watching Christmas movie after Christmas movie, and this is a
    delightful diversion!

    Take care,
    Ellen Blackstone
    BirdNote

  3. Thank you for such an engaging post.  I already knew they had to be female, but I didn’t know about the red nose.  I put a link to your blog on my Facebook page. I’ve been down with a/the virus for three weeks, and this post really made me smile.  Thank you, and happy travels and discoveries in 2022! Betsy

    Back Yard Biology wrote on 12/16/21 7:44 PM: > WordPress.com > Sue posted: ” Some misconceptions to the usual assumptions of what > powers Santa’s sleigh need to be addressed: Santa’s reindeer are all > female (click on the link to read the article) Fact #1: those antlered > reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are all females. Ho” >

    • Hi Betsy, so sorry to hear you’ve been sick with the dreaded virus. I hope you’re healing and feeling more like yourself now. I really appreciate your comments on the blog, and hope you’ll keep reading and replying. Best wishes for 2022.

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