Beyond Rudolph, Things You Might Not Have Known About Reindeer
If we believe the pictures, then Santa’s team members are probably female. Both male and female reindeer have antlers but males shed theirs at the end of mating season in November while females retain theirs until late winter or early spring, meaning that the reindeer that pull Santa’s sleigh are most likely females.
Reindeer and caribou are genetically the same animal. Caribou usually refers to the animals found in northern Alaska, Canada and Greenland. Reindeer is used for the smaller animals found in Asia and Europe and are more likely to be domesticated. (For purposes of this article reindeer will be used to refer to either)
Reindeer are the only large animal able to metabolize lichen, their primary food source in the winter. During the warmer months they feast on grasses, mushrooms and other tundra plants.
The usually single calf is born in May or June. These babies are ready to run within roughly 90 minutes of birth. They must be ready to migrate with the herd for safety. Calves generally stay with mom until fall.
Not all reindeer migrate, but there are some of the North American animals are known to travel 3000 miles. This is one of the longest migrations made by a land animal. Some of these animals might join a super-herd, which can number from 50,000 up to 500,000 individuals.
Their feet are specially designed for life on the tundra. Besides having hooves covered with hair, reindeer have 4 “toes” that spread wide to act like snowshoes. In the summer the footpad swells and becomes spongy; giving the animals traction on the soggy ground, during the winter this pad shrinks back exposing the sharp edges of the hooves which help cut into the icy terrain.
Reindeer click, literally. Some sub-species of reindeer have tendons that click as they slide over bones in the feet. This noise possibly helps the animals stay together during a blinding blizzard.