10 Christmas Facts About Santa’s Reindeer for Kids
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, you know Comet and Cupid and Donder and Blitzen, but do you know these fun facts about Santa’s favorite species from the family Cervidae? Reindeer are pretty awesome critters. Let’s get to know them. Oh and stick around for number one where we’ll find out the real reason why Rudolph’s nose is red.
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10. Reindeer are actually Caribou. Reindeer and Caribou are two names for the same species (rangifer tarandus), with reindeer generally referring to the domesticated variety that is herded by humans and pull sleds like Santa’s. These reindeer live mostly in Scandinavia and Siberia and are typically smaller with shorter legs than their wild caribou relatives.
In Siberia, caribou are called “wild” reindeer. The animal’s size and weight varies by gender and age, with adult caribou reaching 3 to 4 feet tall (about 1 meter) and weighing on average up to 375 pounds (170 kg) for males and 200 pounds (90 kg) for females.
9. They’re fast. While scientists have yet to document a reindeer flying, on the ground, scientists say caribou can run as fast as 48 mph (80 km per hour), though their normal walk is slow to conserve energy. When startled by a predator, a caribou will trot with its head held high and parallel to the ground, and its normally floppy tail held up in the air. When chased, it will gallop quickly.
8. Reindeer have been herded for centuries by several Arctic and Subarctic people.
Some scientists think that the reindeer was one of the first domesticated animals. It was first domesticated around 2,000 years ago, according to the Smithsonian.
Many Arctic societies still rely on this animal for food, clothing, and materials for shelter.
The name “reindeer” is of Norse origin (From the old Norse word “hreinn” for deer) and has nothing to do the reins of a sleigh.
The name “caribou” comes to us through the French, from “qalipu,” meaning “snow shoveler.”
7. Santa won’t have to worry about his reindeer waking up the kids. Most of the time, reindeer are quiet. Female reindeer tend to communicate mainly in the first months after the birth of offspring in summer, while males vocalize exclusively during the autumn mating season.
Some subspecies have knees that make a clicking noise while walking so they can stay together in a blizzard.
6. Today, these deer live in Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, and Russia, where they graze on tundra plants. Rather than a velvety suit, reindeer are covered with hollow hairs that trap in air and keep them well-insulated from the cold. Plus, their circulatory systems keep the cooler blood in the reindeer’s limbs from drawing heat from the warm blood in their core body.
5. Though all the reindeer we know today are a northern tundra species, a form of caribou lived in Idaho until the 19th Century (there are ongoing efforts to re-establish them in the State).
Critically endangered, as of 2015, there were only 14 of these reindeer known to exist. A Native American tribe, the Kootenai, in Idaho has been assigned the task of saving this tiny band of wild reindeer from extinction in a far corner of the northern Rockies straddling the US-Canadian border.
4. These animals are the only type of deer in which both the male and female grow antlers. These antlers fall off and regrow every year. A male’s antlers can grow up to 51 inches (130 centimeters) long and weigh up to 33 lbs. (15 kg), making them very useful for fighting. A female’s antlers can grow up to 20 inches (50 cm), according to the San Diego Zoo.
3. Santa’s reindeer are all girls. Male reindeer shed their antlers at the end of the mating season in early December. Females, however, keep their thinner antlers throughout the winter. If all the sightings are to be believed, then it is the girls tugging Santa and your new toys through the winter sky.
And this might be why Santa chose an all-female crew: Male reindeer carry as little as 5 percent body fat when Christmas rolls around, having lost much of their fatty stores during the mating season. Female reindeer, however, enter winter carrying about 50 percent body fat. This natural insulator, which can be a couple of inches thick on their rumps, keeps the reindeer toasty in temperatures as low as minus 45 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 43 degrees Celsius).
2. Reindeer are herbivores, which means they only eat veggies. And, you should eat your veggies too if you want to be on the nice list.
Their diet can include herbs, ferns, mosses, grasses, shoots, fungi and leaves. On average, an adult reindeer eats around 9 to 18 lbs. (4 to 8 kg) of vegetation in a day, according to the San Diego Zoo.
In the winter, reindeer must dig through the snow to find food. They dig using their antlers and munch on energy-packed lichens called reindeer moss.
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Why is Rudolph’s Nose Red?
1. The secret to Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer’s rosy schnozzle is a dense network of blood vessels in his nose, scientists explained in a 2012 Live Science article. Reindeer, it seems, have 25 percent more capillaries carrying red, oxygen-rich blood in their nasal architecture than humans, said medical researchers in the Netherlands and the University of Rochester in New York.
“In colder climates … the increase in blood flow in the nose will help keep the [nose’s] surface warm,” Dr. John Cullen of the University of Rochester said. The dense network of blood vessels in reindeer noses is also essential for regulating the animal’s internal body temperature — like many mammals, reindeer don’t sweat.
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