Reindeer have long been seen as St. Nicholas’s mythical sleigh-bearing animal companions (many of which unfortunately seem to hold prejudices towards those with red noses). Despite the countless wintery stories about these furry nordic creatures, it seems there’s still so much more we have to learn about these animals. We’ve done some research and compiled a short list of answers to questions we had about Donner, Blitzen, and the most famous reindeer of them all.
1.) Reindeer vs. Caribou
Historically believed to be different, it’s been discovered that the European/Asian Reindeer and the American Caribou are the same species! There are 2 major groups in the reindeer species, the tundra and the woodland reindeer, and from there on these reindeer are further separated into 9 subspecies.
2.) Reindeer Are Pretty Qualified for Their Job
Okay, we have to admit at this point that reindeer, without the magic of Santa, cannot fly. Despite not being naturally aeronautical, they still are a perfect candidate for the job for a number of reasons.
Reindeer are perfectly suited for surviving in cold, harsh environments (such as Santa’s North Pole workshop) with noses designed to warm the air they’re breathing in, and a thick fur that not only traps and warms air but serves as a buoyancy device as Reindeer migrate across cold bodies of water frequently.
On top of that, it was very recently discovered that reindeer are the only mammals that can see ultraviolet light! For example, human vision cuts off at wavelengths around 400nm while reindeer can see wavelengths about 320nm. To put that in perspective, those extra 80 nanometers they’re able to see makes up what we’re only able to see under a black light!
3.) Where did Rudolph’s Red Nose Come From?
Even as a young child, the fact that one of Christmas’ most loved stories came from a seemingly randomly-selected “deformity” confused me. Why did the story writers choose a bright, red nose? Well, because it’s actually a real thing seen in certain reindeer!
Reindeer have about 25% more capillaries carrying oxygen-rich, red blood to their nose than humans do. This is necessary to allow their noses to warm the air being breathed in and regulate their internal body temperature.
4.) From the Roof Arose such a Clatter
It seems commonplace nowadays to associate reindeer with St. Nicholas, but where exactly did the origins of Santa’s reindeer-driven sleigh come from? The earliest mention of reindeer in association with Santa came from 1823’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas” that came to be known as “The Night Before Christmas”.
Author, Clement Clarke Moore introduced us to Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem (the last 2 were translated from Dutch to German, to Donner and Blitzen, meaning “Thunder and Lightning”). No, we didn’t forget about our favorite red-nosed reindeer, Rudolph wasn’t introduced until 1939 in Robert L. May’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.
5.) Speaking of Santa’s Reindeer, Rudolph might be a Girl…
Reindeer are a species, unlike normal Deer for example, where the presence of antlers, or lack thereof, doesn’t necessarily indicate the gender of the reindeer. Both Male and Female reindeer have antlers. Here’s where it gets weird.
Reindeers shed their antlers at certain points of the year, depending on sex and age. Adult males shed their antlers in the winter, meaning in December when Santa’s reindeer are depicted with a full set of antlers, they are most likely females! Of course, there could be the argument that Santa’s reindeer are simply younger males, but this would mean Santa’s crew is constantly being replaced by younger reindeer.
We would like to stick to the theory that Santa remains loyal to his 9 famous female reindeer and that we were all misguided about their genders for years.
6.) How Do Santa’s Reindeer Fly?
We don’t have an answer on for that one. You’re going to have to ask the Big Man himself.