Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Reindeer & antlers by J. S. Marlo

I don't usually write my blog more than a week ahead of time, but I'm making an exception with this one. I was going to post about my New Year resolutions, which I haven't made yet since it's only December 14, when I saw this post on Facebook about Santa's reindeer.

What I was doing on Facebook when I have a million things to do at this time of year is a discussion for another time, but the post caught my attention. Aside from the fact that reindeer, just like deer, don't usually have an "s" in their plural form, it struck me as odd that female reindeer don't lose their antlers, so I did some research.

Female reindeer can grow antlers, just like their male counterparts, making them unique in the deer world. However, not all females have antlers since growing them costs a lot of energy. In habitats where food is scarce or of poor quality, antlerless females dominate. Now, why are female reindeer different from the other female deer?

The female reindeer use their antlers to defend food in small patches 
of cleared snow, and those with the largest antlers tend to be socially dominant and in the best overall physical condition. The females also shed their antlers every year, but unlike male reindeer who lose them late autumn after the rut, female reindeer retain their antlers until spring because access to food is critical during their winter pregnancy.

So, does that mean female reindeer are pulling Santa's sleigh?  Not necessarily. It happens that most of the reindeer used to pull sleds are castrated males because they are easier to handle than "full" reindeer. Castrated reindeer have antler cycles similar to those of the females, only losing them in the spring.

Conclusion: Santa's reindeer are either female or castrated male reindeer. 

Other interesting facts about reindeer:

- There are 14 subspecies of reindeer, two of which are extinct. 
- Reindeer are domesticated or semi-domesticated caribou.
- They live primarily in the Arctic, where winter is drastically colder and darker than the summer.
- Their hooves are soft during warmer months, but in the winter, they become hard and sharp for breaking through the ice to forage vegetation.
- To adapt to seasonal changes in light levels, the part of their eye behind the iris changes color from gold in the summer to blue in the winter.
- They travel up to 3,000 miles and swim long distances along the way.
- They have two layers of hair to keep warm: a dense woolly undercoat, and a top layer of hollow air-filled hairs which float.  Their hair have been used to fill life jackets.

This is a reindeer's hoof print... which I'll try to draw in the snow for my granddaughter.

Happy New Year 2020 !!!

BBC Wildlife: 

1 comment:

  1. Such interesting information. So this year's Christmas ornaments for the grandchildren aren't big strong males. Keep wirting.


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