Sunday, December 25, 2011


Reindeer are called caribou in North America, and they look a little different from the reindeer in Europe and Asia, but they are all known by the scientific name of Rangifer tarandus.  Also, they all like to live in the Arctic and Subarctic, where the weather is pretty darned cold.  Some people who live in those regions hunt reindeer, or they keep them as domestic animals to pull sleds and provide milk, meat, and skins.

There are a lot of reindeer around, so we don't have to worry about them going extinct.  But a long time ago, in the Pleistocene era, there were even more reindeer in the world, and you could find them living as far south as Nevada, Tennessee, and Spain.  Nowadays most of the reindeer live in Scandinavia, Greenland, Alaska, and Canada.  Except for the nine that live with Santa at the North Pole.

Caribou live in the green part and reindeer in the red part.
Reindeer fur is really warm, which it has to be, since the reindeer insist on living in such cold places.  They have a thick, woolly undercoat, with a longer overcoat made of hollow hairs.  The air in the hollow hairs makes very good insulation for the reindeer.

There are several different colors of reindeer fur.  The reindeer that live farthest north, such as the Peary caribou, have the whitest fur, and they are also the smallest type of caribou.  Further south, the Woodland Caribou are the largest and have the darkest fur.

Like other kinds of deer, reindeer grow antlers, and usually both sexes have them.  The males have bigger antlers than the females.  Old males lose their antlers in December, young males in the spring, and females during the summer.  Reindeer have the largest antlers of all deer.  Only moose have bigger antlers.

Reindeer have special noses that are built with lots of surface area inside their nostrils.  This makes it so that when the cold air comes inside their noses, it is warmed first before it goes on to their lungs.  And then when they breathe out, the moisture in their breath is condensed, so that it keeps their mucous membranes from drying out.

A very cute girl and a very cute reindeer calf in Mongolia

Another thing that's special about reindeer is their hooves.  In the summertime, their footpads get spongy,  which makes it easier to walk on the wet, soft tundra.  But in the winter, the footpads get small and tight, so that the edge of the hoof has traction on the ice and snow.  Also, this helps the reindeer dig down in the snow to find reindeer moss, which is the lichen they most like to eat.  In the summer, they also eat willow and birch leaves, sedges, and grasses.

The mating season for reindeer is from late September to early November.  The males get into big fights about who will mate with which female.  They use their antlers to fight with, and the males who are the most dominant might get to mate with 15-20 females.  The calves are born in May or June.  After 45 days, they can graze on their own, but they usually continue suckling until autumn.

Reindeer have a lot of predators.  The calves seem to be especially yummy, and they are favorite meals of golden eagles and wolverines.  Brown bears and polar bears will eat reindeer of any age, and so will gray wolves.  Reindeer can usually outrun the bears, but wolves are faster.  A pack of wolves might follow the same reindeer herd for several months and just catch one to eat whenever they get hungry.

North American caribou migrate farther than any other land mammal.  They sometimes travel 3,100 miles in a year, covering 390,000 square miles.  In Europe, some types of reindeer migrate, but they don't go as far.  Caribou travel between 12 and 34 miles a day when they are migrating, and since they can swim really well, they will cross any lakes or rivers that get in their way.  They can run at speeds of 37 to 50 mph.

I don't know who first decided that Santa Claus traveled around in a sleigh with flying reindeer.  Maybe if I did enough research, I could figure this out, but I'm not going to do the research right now.  What I do know is that Santa's reindeer first got their names in 1823 when a man named Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem called A Visit from St Nicholas.  To be honest, I think it would be kind of scary to have a bunch of reindeer landing on the roof and a fat man coming down the chimney.  So I would rather just get my gifts from Mom!


  1. Another good blog from my friend Piper. I learned lots of things about caribou. I think I would like to have one as a pet. That way I could have fresh antlers whenever I wanted.

    I hope you had a good Christmas and that Senji Paws was good to you. Mom said she wasn't sure if Senji Paws would leave something for me, but he did. We got lots of toys and a big bag of treats, but mom wouldn't let me eat all of the treats. I don't think that's right, but mom has thumbs and I don't, so I only got a few

    Your friend
    Zest, superstar in training

  2. Dear Zest,
    I'm glad you liked my blog about reindeer. I'd like to have one, too, for the antlers, like you said. Also reindeer meat is probably pretty yummy. Hahaha!

    Mom bought us some new treats yesterday, but she hasn't opened the package yet. I think she's going to tonight. It sucks not having thumbs, but at least I have my dewclaws, so that helps a little!

    Merry Christmas from Piper

  3. Dear Piper,
    how do reindeer fly? Because I think santa clause forgot to leave me presents- maybe because the reindeer got sick? or probably because tas didn't leave out a stocking because we don't celebrate christmas?
    Your curious friend, Lucky

  4. Dear Lucky,
    I don't know how reindeer fly or even if they really do. Maybe somebody made that story up! I didn't get any presents from Santa either, and maybe it was because of the same reasons you didn't. We don't celebrate Christmas, so Mom didn't put out any stockings or cookies. I wish she had at least put out some cookies because I would have eaten them!
    Your friend, Piper

  5. I love your blog Piper
    Greatings from Poland

  6. Dear Aleksandra,
    Thank you for reading my blog from far away in Poland. I'm so glad you like it!
    Your friend, Piper

  7. how cute, some things are done through magic. Some times you just have to believe. There are a lot of things we never see or have seen, but we still believe in them. Love the blog and how hard you researched. Great job. Also Santa is a jolly fat man, no one to be scared of :)

    Mom of 3 in Post Falls, Idaho, USA

  8. Dear Mom of 3,

    I'm glad you like my blog and especially what I wrote about reindeer. I'm not really scared of Santa -- I am just scared that he might get stuck in our chimney, which could be a problem. But luckily, that did not happen on Christmas Eve this year, so there is no need to worry until next December 24. Hahahaha!

    Your friend, Piper