8 REASONS WHY SANTA WAS RIGHT TO USE REINDEER
Ever wondered why reindeer are Santa’s choice of Christmas gift transportation? Nature Guru, Autumn Sartain, explains why they’re the perfect choice this Yuletide.
It was a cold, dark night, and Santa needed to get presents to all the nice children of the world. So he piled the gifts in his sleigh, hitched up his eight flying reindeer and saved the day. Thank goodness for the reindeer!
Sadly, if reindeer scientists have observed them flying, they haven’t reported it. But if we ignore that triviality for a moment, we are still left with an important question: are reindeer the right choice for Santa’s sleigh? Here are eight reasons why they could be exactly what Santa needs on a certain cold, dark night.
They don’t have to commute very far for the job
St Nick needn’t worry about having to import beasts to carry his heavy burden: reindeer already live pretty close to the North Pole, if not actually on it (as you may remember the North Pole is in the middle of the Arctic Ocean and covered in shifting sea ice). They live throughout northern latitudes in countries like Norway, Finland, Russia, Greenland, Canada and parts of the U.S.
They can keep warm
Presumably, staying warm would be a key concern while flying in the open air at high altitude (it’s pretty chilly up there: –44°C at 30,000 feet/ 9,000 m). Luckily, reindeer are equipped. They have two layers of fur: one coat of dense wool and another above it with hollow hairs for added insulation. Also, while their noses aren’t actually glowing red bulbs, they do work to keep the reindeers warm. The especially large surface area of their nostrils warms up the frigid air with their body heat before it reaches their lungs.
They have experience (more than you would imagine!)
The indigenous people of Scandanavia, the Sámi, used reindeer to pull their pulks, a low-slung toboggan. However, this was an unfortunate appointment for the reindeer, as they would be castrated first by having a Sámi man chew on their testicles. I doubt Santa would do the same, but he hasn’t responded to my request for an interview.
Their feet are great for slippery landings
Better than a snow chain, reindeer have adaptable hooves. Summertime means soft and wet tundra, and their footpads become like sponges to help them get traction. Deep in winter though, these pads shrink and become hard, making appropriate sleigh-landing gear in snowy conditions. With a sharp hoof edge, they can cut into ice and crusted snow, which they do while digging for lichen. And for scraping the ice off chimneys.
They can work through the night (or day)
The Arctic is a place where the terms ‘day’ and ‘night’ take on an abstraction that most of us couldn’t handle. Two months of the year it’s
dark and two months it’s light. With this kind of variation, humans undoubtedly suffer as our
circadian rhythm struggles to adjust to the patterns of rest. Not so the reindeer. To adapt to the massive changes in daylight regularity, they’ve dropped their 24-hour sleep-wake body rhythm altogether. Without the clock, they are able to forage whenever conditions are right, whether ‘night’ or ‘day’. Ideal, considering the long night they have in store.
They are more peaceful in winter
Males lock antlers and push each other to show strength and dominance while trying to win over the ladies. They also loudly groan at and chase females, later adding a little extra attractiveness by digging troughs in which to deposit urine. (Now, which warm-blooded female could resist that?) The males are so caught up in these battles and pursuits that they even stop eating and lose weight. Luckily for Santa, he doesn’t have to deal with this drama during his busy work schedule because mating only occurs from September to November. This is assuming Dasher and the rest are male, because female reindeers have antlers too. On that note, depending on the subspecies and age, males might not have antlers at all in late December.
They can see better than us
…at least when it comes to UV light. Researchers recently discovered that reindeer can see light at a higher frequency than humans. This helps them see contrasts in the mostly white and low-light environment, which likely helps them better discern each other, predators, food such as lichen and mince pies, and even urine. Just the animal to lead the way in the middle of the night to deliver presents.
They have stamina
How would you feel about walking 5,000 km this year? Some reindeer populations in North America do this every year on what is the longest migration for any land-based mammal. Not only that, but they’re fast – which could come in handy during sleigh take-offs. They travel 19–55 km a day during migration (think, power walking a marathon or more each day) and can run 60–80 km/h. With their speed, stamina, hardiness and general good-looks, there seems to be no question that reindeer are perfect for the job of pulling Santa’s sleigh. And with wolves as their primary predator, they probably wouldn’t even mind landing on rooftops to avoid the family dog.