With its majestic antlers, the reindeer looks great when driving the sled of Santa Claus. Able to withstand cold polar and galloping in the snow, the deer is cut to fulfill this valiant mission.
Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) belongs to the order Artiodactyla (ungulate mammal with each hoof composed of two fingers) and to the family of deer. The animal appeared in its current form over a million years ago in the Bering Strait area. He then dispersed to populate all the arctic areas of the North Pole. The reindeer survived the successive climatic changes of the Quaternary era thanks, according to scientists, to their low dietary requirements. From nine subspecies, we can quote: the reindeer of Europe (Rangifer tarandus tarandus), woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), the tundra reindeer (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus), Peary Caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi) or Grant’s caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti).
The reindeer: an imposing stature
Called caribou in Canada, the reindeer have a slender body, a massive chest and a short tail. Its head sports a long muzzle, small rounded ears and a pair of antlers that stand up to the vertical. Its brown or gray coat is adorned with large spots whitish on the neck, stomach and legs. Its size varies from 180 to 210 cm, its height at the withers from 110 to 130 cm and its weight can reach 250 kg for males and 150 kg for females.
Its antlers, weapons of seduction
The reindeer is the only deer whose both sexes bear antlers (shorter in the female). Unlike horns which are perennial, antlers are obsolete and fall every year in the fall. They regrow in the following spring to reach their full development during the period of rut. Varying with the age of the animal, the antlers can measure 1.30 m in height (for a male), and weigh up to 7 kg. Composed of bone material supplied with blood, these attributes sometimes display more than ten ramifications main and even more secondary horns. The reindeer uses it to seduce females during the mating season: the more its plume impresses, the more the cervid will dominate the other males and increase its number of mates.
Seasonal adaptation of the reindeer
The reindeer hoof has the particularity of adapting to the seasons. In summer, the horn border retracts to make room for pads of flesh that facilitate movement in the mud. In winter, the hoof takes a concave shape: the edge becomes cutting to adhere to slippery floors, the pads of flesh shrink and become covered with hair. They’re becoming dry, thus facilitating a progression in the snow, on hard and frozen soils. The cervid has a thick woolen down and long hairs hollow (called jars). It stores a lot of water in its tissues which it uses asinsulating thermal to retain heat and help it swim. The tip of the muzzle is also insulated from the cold by hair. Cervids can survive temperatures of – 40 °.
Reindeer, an animal of the North Pole
The reindeer lives in the arctic and subarctic regions ofEurope, North America and Asia: Greenland, Scandinavia, Canada, Alaska, northern Russia, Mongolia and China. The species was introduced to the Kerguelen Islands. In these different regions of the world, the cervid lives in the large boreal forests, the tundra and mountainous areas.
Reindeer love lichen
The reindeer feeds onherbs, bushes, bark, tree leaves, branches of shrubs, young shoots, mosses, mushrooms and willows. The herbivore also appreciates the lichen, in particular the Cetraria islandica variety which contains 60% of carbohydrates and thus provides it with the calories it needs to compensate for energy expenditure aimed at combating the cold. It is by scratching the frozen ground or the snow with its legs and its antlers that it finds its food. The pressure it exerts on growing plants and lichen slow, forced him to carry out distant migrations destined to subsist.
Risky migration for reindeer
To find food, North American reindeer are able to walk over 6000 kilometers per year, the largest animal land migration. Led by females too old to reproduce (bréhaignes), herds sometimes made up of 100,000 individuals stretch out in line up to 300 kilometers long. Crossing rivers in debacle or arm of the sea makes transhumance particularly perilous. Isolated and weak subjects are preys privileged for the wolves who follow the procession. The drownings collectives are numerous, as in 1984, when 10,000 caribou perished in the Caniapiscau River in Quebec
The reindeer and his harem
Rather silent animal, the reindeer makes its slab during the rutting season which takes place at the end of summer. Of fights fierce between males precede the matings and the winner appropriates a harem of about fifteen females. After 7 to 8 months of gestation is born a fawn of brown color, which weighs about 6 kilos. Able to walk one o’clock after giving birth, the baby will be fed for six months with rich milk and fat that will help it survive the cold, predators and participate in migration. Faced with the harsh living conditions, 50 to 80% of young people do not reach their first year. The survivors take their independence at the age of one and become sexually mature by the age of two.
Reindeer: run to survive
On the lookout during the transhumance, the packs of wolves are the most formidable predators of reindeer. Depending on the region of the world, its other natural enemies are the grizzly, the puma and the lynx against which the deer defends itself by escape. Endurance runner, he can last an hour at 40 km / h. The animal can also use its antlers against a predator alone. Hunting, the poaching and diseases are the main causes of population decline in some parts of the world. If the reindeer is not considered endangered in Europe, it is classified in the category Vulnerable on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The cervid is also listed in Appendix III of the Convention on Bern which aims to regulate the exploitation of the species.
The famous 9 reindeer of Santa Claus
Santa’s reindeer first appeared in 1821 in a poem published by a New York printer named William Gilley. Then was born a legend according to which Santa’s sleigh was pulled by 8 reindeer: Spirited, Dancer, Cunning, Dashing, Comet, Cupid, Lightning and Thunder. Rudolph entered the scene in 1939, in American popular history written by Robert L. May. Thanks to his Red nose which lights up, Rodolphe guides the sled in the most extreme weather conditions, allowing Santa Claus to always arrive on time for the delivery of gifts.