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Planet Earth

Rudolphette? Santa Employs Female Reindeer, Say Wildlife Experts

DiscoblogBy Nina BaiDecember 20, 2008 12:07 AM

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reindeer.jpg

Ever wonder why one of Santa's all-male reindeer team was named Vixen? Well, here's a real gender-bender: Deer experts studying depictions of Santa's reindeer (alas, photographic evidence is rare) say Rudolph and all the rest actually appear to be females. What's more, female reindeer are likely to be pregnant during the winter months. So, has Santa been roof-hopping and gift-hauling on the backs of pregnant female reindeer or these years? The evidence is in the antlers. Reindeer, or caribou, are the only deer in which both sexes grow antlers, which are shed and regrown every year. Bucks usually shed their antlers by December, having given them plenty of use battling other bucks during the mating season in summer and fall. Immature males and non-expecting females lose their antlers in early spring. Pregnant females keep their antlers as a means of defense 'til late spring, when their calves are born. This means that when Christmas Eve rolls around, the only fully-grown reindeer that still have antlers are female. Besides, experts say, bucks are so busy gettin' busy during the fall (one male can mate with up to a dozen females—the whole sleigh team!—in a single season) that they'd be too physically worn out to haul Santa's sleigh. On the other hand, "You don't hook up your pregnant females to a sled," says Greg Finstad of the Reindeer Research Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, "That is not good animal husbandry." Aside from loveworn bucks and pregnant females, Santa's only alternative means of reindeer transport would be castrated males, known as steers. Because of their inability to... engage in other activities, steers maintain a lean and mean physique throughout the year, perfect for a globe-trotting marathon on Christmas Eve. Related Content: Discoblog: Freakish, Caribou-Eating Monster Haunts the Arctic Deep

Image: flickr / Weaselmcfee

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