We know Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen and the other reindeer pulling Santa’s Important Sleigh by name, but really nothing else. I went to find out what Santa’s reindeers are really like. They live all around Lapland, some in Torassieppi, Muonio.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Rudolph, as he was resting and saving his energy for the Big Day. But there are big personalities amongst the others as well.
Antlers are a signal of fitness
The bigger the antlers, the better father material you are in the eyes of the ladies. Lads cannot cheat and grow ridiculously large antlers, however, as it is up to genes and fitness how large they grow.
Unlike other deer, female reindeer have antlers too, although smaller ones. Most likely the function is to better defend their young.
Reindeer shed their antlers once a year, males after the rutting (mating) season. Some hold on to their crown until Christmas, probably to show off when travelling with Santa. Others won’t get rid of them until spring! Big antlers are heavy to carry and not very handy in thick forest, so there is really no need to keep them after the ladies have seen them in Autumn. Females loose their antlers in the summer.
Reindeer are not fussy with food
The favourite food of reindeer is lichen. But in the forest during their summer holidays reindeer also munch mushrooms and plants. It has been counted that reindeer eat over 350 different species of plant! The strategy is to pile up weight as much as possible before the long winter.
In the winter they smell food under a thick layer of snow. They have a very good sense of smell, it is reindeer’s most import sense.
Extreme cold doesn’t bother
Reindeer can manage in extreme cold, in -50 degrees of Celsius.
My lungs hurt if I ski at full speed in -25 C. Reindeer warm cold air in the long nose before it enters lungs.
But the coolest (or warmest) trick is in the fur: They have a very thick underlayer of hair, and overcoat is made of stiff, hollow hair that traps air for insulation. Actually Santa’s reindeer could make their journey by swimming, as the air trapping fur works like a life vest!
I personally often get cold feet even in my warmest shoes. Reindeer don’t care, even if the temperature in their feet goes near freezing point. They don’t get a frost bite as I would, thanks to a specialised circulation system, in addition to a super cool antifreeze liquid in their bone marrow. True story.
Need to stop for a wee
In Finnish we have a measurement poronkusema which means the distance a reindeer runs without urinating. It is 7-8 km in fact. Reindeer cannot run and pee, so when sledding, they must be stopped at certain intervals so they can use the bathroom. I noticed at least Rolle seemed to empty his bladder every time we stopped on our 3 km sledding trip, just in case. It is actually very dangerous for the reindeer if he can’t go in a long time.
So if you see something yellow on the snow next to your house on Christmas Day, you know what it is!