35 Fascinating Reindeer Facts That May Even Surprise Santa
There are plenty of stories about Christmas reindeer that can fly or light up foggy nights with bright red noses, but did you ever stop to think if there’s any truth to these stories? Even if reindeer can’t quite fly, these amazing animals have several traits that are pretty magical on their own.
So, let’s put your knowledge to the test with these true or false questions about reindeer facts that may even surprise Santa.
True or False? Reindeer and Caribou are different animals.
Reindeer and caribou are actually the same animals, although scientists use these names to distinguish whether or not an animal is tame or wild.
Generally speaking, "reindeer" refers to domesticated deer, while "caribou" is used to describe wild herds of animals.
True or False? Reindeer only live in the North Pole.
Reindeer live in arctic and subarctic areas around the world, including North America, Greenland, Scandinavia and Russia.
True or False? Reindeer only live in the arctic and subarctic regions.
There is a small population of woodland caribou that lives in the Selkirk Mountains of Northern Idaho. The group had a much healthier population in the early 1900s but has become relatively unstable due to climate change and impacts on their territory.
However, there are consistent efforts to try and help this population grow.
True or False? Reindeer are the only deer species to be domesticated.
People who live in arctic regions around the world have used reindeer as beasts of burden for about 3,000 years. That's a pretty short amount of time as far as most domesticated animals go.
Groups of people who have domesticated reindeer include the Sami people of Scandinavia, the Duhka of Mongolia, the Yakut of northern Russia and Indigenous people from northern Canada and Alaska.
True or False? The Sami people still herd and use reindeer as livestock to this day.
These people are indigenous to the northernmost parts of Scandinavia. They still use reindeer because they can withstand the cold temperatures near the Arctic Circle.
The Sami rely on these animals for their fur, meat and dairy production, and even use reindeer to pull sleds. Disney based the Northuldra people in “Frozen 2” on the Sami.
True or False? Reindeer have similar naming conventions as all deer.
While deer are typically called "bucks," "does" and "fawns," reindeer are generally classified like livestock.
Females are cows, males are bulls, and babies are called calves.
True or False? Reindeer milk is richer and more nutritious than cow milk.
Reindeer milk is incredibly nutritious to help baby reindeer put on weight quickly in preparation for winter. It's made up of 20 percent milkfat and 10 percent protein. Cow's milk is only about 4 percent protein and milkfat.
It takes a reindeer cow so much energy to produce this milk for their baby that a lactating mother can weigh 25 percent less than her childless counterpart come winter.
True or False? Reindeer get their names because they pull the reins of sleds.
The "rein" in the word “reindeer” actually comes from the old Norse word, "hreinn" which means "deer." Several different cultures have seen reindeer in the wild and have names for these creatures.
For example, "caribou" comes from the French language, and the Indigenous Mi'kmag people call reindeer "qalipu," which means "snow shoveler."
True or False? Reindeer were first mentioned to pull Santa's Sleigh in the 1800s.
The first time reindeer were associated with Santa Claus was in the poem "Old Stanteclaus With Much Delight," which was published in 1821 in New York, two years before the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
In the first poem, Santa only has one reindeer pulling his sleigh. In the second poem, we get the full eight-member team, featuring Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen.
True or False? Santa has the only mythical reindeer in history.
The story of Santa Clause isn't the only myth featuring magical reindeer. Because so many indigenous people rely on reindeer for their survival, they have a rich mythological history.
The Sami people believe that there is a constellation of a man hunting a cosmic reindeer in the sky for all eternity. And the Innu people of Canada believe that a caribou god oversees the actions of hunters and makes sure they follow the best practices and rules of hunting.
True or False? There’s only one kind of reindeer.
The scientific name of all caribou is Rangifer tarandus. However, there are more than 14 subspecies of reindeer that have genetic differences, which make them more successful for the environments in which they live.
These include porcupine and barren-land caribou (which live in tundras), forest reindeer and Norwegian mountain reindeer.
True or False? All reindeer are considered big animals.
While most reindeer are more than 5-feet long and can weigh more than 300 pounds, there is one species of dwarf reindeer.
The Svalbard reindeer live on a small archipelago of islands off the coast of Norway that only grow to be the size of very large dogs. Females reach about 150 pounds, while larger males top out at just under 200 pounds.
True or False? Reindeer come in different colors.
Reindeer come in different colors depending on where they live. These coat colors help them blend into the environment around them, making them harder to see. Forest reindeer tend to be darker in color and more brown, while tundra reindeer have white coats that help them blend in with a snowy area.
Some reindeer even change color throughout the year, turning darker in the summer, when there's less snow, and turning white in the winter.
True or False? Reindeer fur is double-layered to keep them warm.
Caribou, like other arctic animals, take advantage of double-layer coats to ward off the cold.
The first layer, which is close to their skin, is a thick wooly coat that keeps in body heat. Meanwhile, their outer layer of fur is made up of long, hollow guard hairs that wick away water and keep the cold air from reaching the wooly undercoat.
True or False? Reindeer can float.
Reindeer can't fly, but they certainly float like a cork. The hollow guard hairs in a reindeer's coat make them incredibly buoyant, which helps them float.
This adaptation is incredibly helpful for tundra reindeer, which often heed to fjord rivers to get to fertile grazing grounds. Some people even use reindeer-fur coats as life jackets when they go kayaking.
True or False? Reindeer hooves stay the same all-year round.
Another way that reindeer have adapted to their extreme environment is by having flexible footwear that adapts to the situations around them.
During the summer, a reindeer's hooves flatten out, which helps them distribute their weight on soft ground. However, in the winter, their hooves contract and tighten up, helping them find better footing in icy conditions.
True or False? They have two toes and a dewclaw, like most other deer species.
Reindeer are part of the Pecora sub-order of animals, which includes all deer and even-toed ruminants.
Having two toes is essential for reindeer because they can splay out, making them effective swimmers, or tighten up on rough terrain. Their dewclaw even helps them find grip climbing up mountains.
True or False? Forest reindeer have scoop-shaped hooves to help them forage for food.
The toes of a forest reindeer are very close together and almost look like they're turned inward to make a spade shape that helps them move snow while grazing.
This adaptation helps them find food more effectively.
True or False? A reindeer’s favorite food is oats and carrots.
Caribou have a wide range of foods they like to eat, including mosses, ferns, grasses, shoots from trees and bushes, and more.
Their favorite food is lichen, a type of green fungi that lives on trees and rocks in the Arctic. Lichen is available year-round for reindeer, which means it's a staple food for them in the winter. This preference is why lichen is sometimes called "reindeer moss."
True or False? Reindeer are completely covered with hair.
There's no better way to keep out the snow than to have a thick layer of fur to cover your body.
While most deer species don't have hair on their nose, reindeer's noses are completely furry, helping them keep out the cold. They even have fur between their toes.
True or False? Some reindeer have red noses.
A reindeer's nose is specially designed to help warm the air they breathe before it makes it back to their lungs. They do this by having furry snouts and having dense capillary beds that can flood the area with warm blood.
When it's freezing, these capillary beds can fill with so much blood that a reindeer's nose takes on a pinky tone, just like Rudolph!
True or False? Reindeer antlers are the proportionally biggest among any deer species.
While reindeer antlers are generally second to moose antlers, if you adjust for the animal's body size, reindeer antlers take the cake. Each subspecies of reindeer has a different kind of antler and shape, with arctic subspecies having more spindly ones than their woodland cousins.
Forest reindeer antlers can even resemble those of moose, with broad, flat areas at the top.
True or False? Reindeer lose their antlers in the winter.
Did you know that Santa's reindeer may have been females? This theory might be true due to when reindeer lose their antlers. While reindeer are the only kind of deer where both males and females grow antlers, males tend to drop their antlers after mating season in November, while females carry theirs until their calves are born in May.
If Santa's reindeer have antlers on Christmas Eve, he likely has a team of cows pulling his sleigh!
True or False? During harsh winters, reindeer might not grow antlers.
Reindeer antlers grow very quickly, over an inch a day, making it a very energy-intensive and arduous process. This takes up so much energy that a female reindeer may not have enough nutrients to grow a set of antlers properly.
During harsh winters or lean times, reindeer may not grow antlers to conserve their calories for essential functions.
True or False? Reindeer live alone.
While many species of reindeer tend to be solitary, reindeer live in huge families. These animals have some of the most immense herds of any deer species.
Tundra reindeer, in particular, can live in groups with more than 500,000 individuals.
True or False? Forest reindeer live in smaller families than tundra reindeer.
It's a bit harder to have large herds in thick forests, so woodland reindeer usually live in smaller families than their tundra-based cousins.
However, they still live in substantial groups of five to 15 individuals. These groups tend to be called "harems" because they have one male and several females.
True or False? Reindeer don't move around much.
Tundra reindeer are some of the most widely traveled land mammals and can migrate more than 3,100 miles a year.
They generally move north in the summers, where they can benefit from 24-hour daylight that helps their favorite foods grow. Those long migrations often take them through rivers and over mountains.
True or False? Reindeer calves are born unsteady on their feet, giving them 'Bambi legs.'
When their families are on the move, baby reindeer need to keep up.
Newborn babies can stand within an hour of being born and can run faster than 25 miles within a few hours!
True or False? Baby reindeer are born in May or June.
After the breeding season in late fall, female reindeer are pregnant for about 7.5 months before giving birth to calves in the summer. Giving birth in the summer allows them to nurse their young while they enjoy grazing.
This is also around the time that cows lose their antlers and start growing a new pair.
True or False? Reindeer calves have spots like other baby deer.
Baby reindeer usually are brown or white, the color of the herd around them. You're probably familiar with white-tailed deer whose fawns have spots to camouflage them.
Baby reindeer rarely leave their mothers when they're young, and if they were spotted, it'd be difficult for them to blend in with the herd around them. Sticking out amongst a mass of migrating caribou would make it easier for these babies to be picked off by predators.
True or False? Male reindeer make massive transformations during mating season.
During the breeding season, male reindeer put their focus into attracting the attention of female reindeer. They grow a thick mane of fur, lose their antler velvet and start competing against other males for the right to breed.
During this time, they can sustain injuries from these competitions and even lose 25 pounds from their efforts, which puts them at risk from predators. After breeding season, in December, male reindeer lose their antlers and start growing new ones in February.
True or False? Reindeer really click when they walk.
You've probably heard the line "up on the housetop, click click click" and thought nothing of it. However, it's actually a representation of what reindeer sound like when they walk.
Reindeer joints make a clicking sound, caused by the tendon moving over the bone. It's the same noise you make when you crack your fingers. They do this to hear each other in wintry blizzards, which makes seeing one another very difficult.
True or False? Humans have better eyesight than reindeer.
Reindeer can actually see a wavelength of light that is invisible to humans.
They can see ultraviolet wavelengths, which help them find food in the snow. Scientists think that reindeer developed this adaptation after moving to the Arctic thousands of years ago, as it became essential for survival.
True or False? Reindeer live to be 15 in the wild and about 20 in captivity.
Reindeer have a relatively long life for deer and can live even longer when they're in the company of humans.
Captive reindeer don't have to worry about going hungry or fear predators that might take advantage of the young, sick or injured.
True or False? Reindeer are listed as threatened because their populations are declining.
While there are about 5 million individual reindeer in the wild right now, their populations are declining. The primary causes of this population decline are habitat loss and climate change, which make it harder for reindeer to find food and migrate to ancestral breeding grounds.
While reindeer are amazing and adaptable creatures, they are sensitive to their environment, making these changes particularly difficult for them to overcome.