Reindeer are popular animals in countries like Canada and Norway, known for their migrations and resilience to the elements. They have also been an important part of many cultures worldwide for thousands of years, having been observed to withstand freezing temperatures every winter like nothing.
You might be tempted to know just how cold it can get before reindeer call it quits and marches south. In this article, we’ll discuss this topic and delve into reindeer migration patterns.
What’s the Coldest Temperature Reindeer Can Handle?
Reindeer evolved during the last ice age to withstand temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celsius. Yes, you read that right. This is an insane feat, accomplished only by a very select group of specialized animals. Reindeer have developed systems that allow them to be highly energy efficient, and thus they can survive temperatures that most other living organisms of their size simply wouldn’t.
For example, they have incredibly dense fur that protects them from snow and ice shards that the wind might pick up. Also, their hooves have adapted to change with the seasons, becoming stiffer in the winter to better walk on ice. However, they are also extremely sensitive to ice surfaces, so reindeer have an innate sense of whether they can walk on an ice sheet or not.
As if this wasn’t enough, they have evolved a highly peculiar air-heating mechanism in their nose. A reindeer’s nose is full of blood vessels that warm cold air as it comes in and makes their noses exhibit a distinct red hue. In a fraction of a second, the cold air a reindeer breathes is heated up to its body’s temperature.
The air they breathe out, on top of that, is also cooled down as quickly as possible to waste as little energy as can be. Interestingly, they also have unique adaptations in their tendons that make them click as they walk, which allows them to keep track of each other’s positions as they get into snowstorms or dense forests in the dark. This makes them wonders of nature and proves that complex life can significantly adapt to survive.
Where Do Reindeer Live?
Reindeer are all over the Northern Hemisphere. They inhabit the arctic, subarctic, tundra, and boreal forests in countries like Canada, the US, Russia, and Norway. These are places where temperatures routinely drop as low as -40 degrees Celsius, which forces reindeer to either adapt or die.
Reindeer know the ins and outs of the whole arctic environment, allowing them to survive and thrive in any part of the northernmost parts of the world. However, even for them, the icy winters can be too much, which is why many reindeer subspecies love to migrate.
Why Do Reindeer Migrate?
Not only do most reindeer migrate, but they also migrate a lot. Certain subspecies of caribou — the more scientific name of North American reindeer — in Canada are known to trek over 3.000 miles yearly from north to south. They are, in fact, the animals that migrate the longest distances on land.
They do so not precisely because they can’t stand the cold but because their food can’t. Reindeer mainly feed on grass, mushrooms, and other living organisms that simply don’t thrive in the super cold winters of the Arctic. Thus, when seasons change and temperatures drop, reindeer change their diet and eat mostly lichen — or reindeer moss.
Then, they commence the trek south, which can last the whole season, and cover between 600 and 3000 miles. They prefer to spend the winters among thick boreal forests and in groups. Tribes of up to 400,000 reindeer led by a female can travel in unison every year through similar spots. However, predicting when they’ll begin their migration is practically impossible.
Manmade factors like roads, and global warming have disrupted their natural migration patterns, making it difficult to know when they’ll begin to move. As far as we know, the temperature drops and shorter overall days clue the reindeer in to begin their annual trek.
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