10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

You know Dasher and Prancer and Donner and Blitzen…
But do you recall these festive facts about reindeer?

caribou-Charles_Bell

1. Reindeer or caribou? In Europe and Asia, they’re known as reindeer. In North America, the name caribou refers to the wild populations found in Alaska, Idaho, and Canada. However, both reindeer and caribou are classified as the same genus and species, Rangifer tarandus.

2. Reindeer are the only deer species where males and females both have antlers. Males lose their antlers in winter or early spring, but females shed theirs in the summer. The females are significantly smaller than the males, but they are still sharp!

3. Some North American caribou migrate over 3,000 miles in a year – more than any other mammals!

caribou on the Arctic Coastal Plain

Caribou on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: USFWSHQ/ Flickr Creative Commons


4. That click, click, click you hear on the rooftop is not a reindeer’s hooves. The sound is actually due to tendons slipping over their foot bones as they walk.

5. A reindeer is especially equipped for the frozen climate of the tundra. They have two coats-a soft undercoat and a top coat that consists of long, stiff guard hairs. Both coats work to keep them protected and insulated in the sub-zero temperatures of the Arctic and subarctic.

6. Reindeer comes from the Old Norse word “hreinin,” which means “horned animal.” The name “caribou” comes from the French, meaning “snow shoveler.”


7. Reindeer have specialized, adapted noses that help warm the air they breathe before it enters their lungs and to condense water in the air, which they then use to keep their mucous membranes moist.

8. Reindeer hooves are incredibly versatile. In the summer when the ground is soft, the hooves expand and become sponge-like to help provide traction. In the winter, the pads shrink and tighten, exposing the rim of the hoof, which helps cut through hard snow and ice. Hair between the toes, prevents the hooves from being clogged with snow.

9. Reindeer are thought to be the only mammals that can see ultraviolet light. This allows them to see many objects that blend into the Arctic landscape, such as urine and fur, that will produce sharp contrasts in ultraviolet.

10. Reindeer are ruminants, having a four-chambered stomach. They mainly eat lichens and other vegetation in the winter, but there is some evidence to suggest  they will occasionally feed on lemmings and bird eggs!

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