The fight to re­pro­duce

World of Animals - - All About Reindeer - A rein­deer’s antlers play a cru­cial role in re­pro­duc­tion and sur­vival

Antlers are a rein­deer’s most prom­i­nent fea­ture, and they serve an im­por­tant role in breed­ing. Males grow their antlers each year in prepa­ra­tion for the breed­ing sea­son, known as the rut, which starts in Septem­ber. Dur­ing this time their antlers are cov­ered in thick vel­vet, their necks swell, their stom­achs re­tract and they grow a mane of long, white hair. Once all the vel­vet coat­ing has been shed or rubbed off, ex­pos­ing the hard­ened bone be­neath, the rut­ting be­gins. The win­ner chooses five to 15 fe­males to re­pro­duce with and guards them fiercely from com­peti­tors. This is a stress­ful time for males and they can lose up to one-quar­ter of their body weight.

Once the mat­ing sea­son is over in Novem­ber the males will drop their antlers. How­ever, preg­nant fe­males will keep theirs un­til spring, as this puts them at the top of the feed­ing hi­er­ar­chy, en­sur­ing ac­cess to the best for­ag­ing sites. The mother leaves the herd in the spring and trav­els to a calv­ing ground, where she usu­ally gives birth to a sin­gle calf in the morn­ing dur­ing the month of May, some­times June.

Most calves are born within a ten-day pe­riod and weigh 2.5 to nine kilo­grams (5.5 to 19.8 pounds). They can stand af­ter just one hour and can out­run an Olympic sprinter af­ter only one day. The calf stays close to its mother for the first six months, re­ly­ing on her rich milk un­til it is weaned, al­though it starts eat­ing solid food af­ter just one week.

Un­like other deer, rein­deer have hair on their hooves to keeptheir feet warm. Dur­ing the win­ter, only the rims of the hoof come into con­tact with the cold ground.Two large, cres­cent-shaped toes bear most of their weight.

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