10 Incredible Reindeer Facts

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Updated: July 2, 2022
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Almost everyone in the world knows about reindeer and Yuletide. These fascinating animals have been made popular through their association with Santa Claus, a mythical creature who uses them to fly around in his sleigh during Christmas to distribute gifts to kids. With so many movies, songs, stories, and poems written about these amazing animals, very few facts are known about them. However, to bridge this knowledge gap, here are ten incredible reindeer facts you should know.

1. There Are Eight Subspecies Of Reindeer

Reindeer are one of the forty-three species of deer that exist worldwide. They are also the fifth largest deer species in the world. They belong to the Cervidae family, which includes giraffes, bison, hippos, pigs, camels, sheep, and cattle. However, all reindeer are not the same. There are eight subspecies of reindeer, which include:

1. Santa’s (R.t. Saint-Nicolas magicalus)

2. Barren-ground (Rangifer tarandus granti)

3. Svalbard (R.t platyrhynchus)

4. European (R.t. tarandus)

5. Finnish forest (R.t. fennicus)

6. Greenland (R.t. groenlandicus)

7. Woodland (R.t. caribou)

8. Peary’s (R.t. pearyi)

2. The Reindeer Has Another Name

Reindeer Antlers
Domesticated caribous in North America are called reindeer.

Jeff McGraw/Shutterstock.com

The reindeer is called caribou in North America but retains the name reindeer across Europe and Asia. However, when caribous are domesticated in North America, they are referred to as reindeer. What a twist of names that is.

3. Both Male And Female Reindeer Grow Antlers

Female Reindeer Have Antlers
Female reindeer have antlers.

In most deer species, only the males grow antlers. However, both male and female reindeer grow antlers. There are rare cases in other deers where the females grow little antlers, but this is usually a result of an anomaly in testosterone regulations. The growth of antlers among the females of the deer species is only normal with female reindeers. 

4. A Reindeer Grows New Antlers Every Year 

Reindeer on ground
Reindeer grow new antlers yearly.

Batbadrakh/Shutterstock.com

Another fascinating fact about reindeer antlers is that they grow new ones yearly. Unlike horns which are mostly permanent, deer shed their antlers and grow new ones every year. The male reindeer, known as bulls, shed their antlers in November, just before Christmas, and grow them back the following spring. The females (cows) keep their antlers through the winter and shed them when they give birth to their young (calves) in May. This invariably means that all of Santa’s reindeer are females, as only females keep their antlers during Christmas.

5. Reindeer Are Built For The Snow 

These beautiful creatures spend most of their lives (up to forty percent) in the snow. This is not surprising as their morphology supports life in the snow. While many other animals would find it difficult to adapt or survive in the snow, the reindeer seems built for life in the snow. Its habitat, known as tundra, is cold all year round. Even in the summer, when it’s warm in other places, the tundra has a temperature that’s maximally 7.2°C. The consequence of such weather is that the layers of earth are covered in snow, and nothing much grows. But the reindeer has all it takes to survive in this environment. Its double layer of skin keeps it warm from the cold. The top layer, in particular, is straw-like and traps warm air to keep the deer warm. Its nose is enormous and can warm the air that goes into the nostrils. Its antlers are strong enough to dig the earth for food like moss and lichen. It also uses its hoofs to break through and shovel through the snow. Little wonder its second name, caribou, means snow shoveler.

6. Reindeer Are The Only mammals That Can See Ultraviolet Light 

Most mammals on the planet cannot see ultraviolet light because their eyes are not built to detect such light. The reindeer, however, is one exception as it can see ultraviolet light with its eyes. The reason for this is the transparent tissue in their eyes that helps them adapt to their needs during the winter.

7. Reindeer Are The Only Deer Species To Be Domesticated 

As surprising as it may sound, reindeer are the only deer species to be widely domesticated. Some scientists claim that reindeer domestication started almost 2000 years ago. Since then until now, they have been domesticated for their meat, milk, fur, antlers, and as a means of transportation. 

8. Santa Is Not The Only One Who Uses Reindeer Express 

Contrary to popular opinion, Santa is not the only person who travels using a sleigh pulled by reindeer. If we face the truth, Santa and his travels are a myth. However, there are still people in regions of the world who have domesticated deer to use them as a means of travel via sleighs and as beasts of burden.

9. Rudolph’s Red Nose Is Not A Myth 

Although it might not be as shiny as the one you see in the pictures and animations, some reindeer indeed have red noses. Compared to the Rudolph stories, they are not unique and are not avoided by other reindeer. The red nose results from many blood vessels in the nostrils of these reindeer. It’s nothing special and doesn’t point the way in the dark.

10. Reindeer Have A Weird Means Of Communication 

Reindeer have a weird means of communicating with each other. One of the ways they keep together when traveling in herds is by the clicking sounds they make with their back feet. The sound is produced by the snapping of tendons over sesamoid bones in their feet and can travel long distances keeping the herd together as they travel. Another means of communication is the scent of ointment that the reindeer secret from their legs to warn other herd members about danger. They communicate danger by lifting their tails and showing the white parts of their backsides when running.

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