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Do Female Reindeer Have Antlers? - Why Santa's Reindeer Are Female | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Why Santa's Reindeer Are Female

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It's All in the Antlers!

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Ready for a little Christmas humor? On Christmas night, eight reindeer adorned with full sets of antlers lead Santa’s sleigh, as the story goes. In the wild, of course, the only reindeer left with antlers at Christmastime are the females. Enjoy some reindeer trivia and fun facts!

Reindeer Trivia and Fun Facts 

Let’s start out with five facts about reindeer to get to know more about Santa’s helpers. These amazing magical creatures can stay warm in cold weather, see in the dark, stand upright on any surface, and travel very long distances. 

  1. Reindeer love cold places. (You probably won’t see any reindeer roaming around your neighborhood unless you live near the Arctic.) While many mammals have just one layer of fur, reindeer have two layers of thick, furry, brownish-gray hair. The layer closest to their skin is dense, wooly, and soft. On top are long, hollow “guard hairs.” Air gets trapped inside these hairs and holds in body heat to keep the reindeer warm. These hairs also help reindeer to float; they are excellent swimmers! The reindeer’s double coat of fur does not extend to its legs. In cold weather, reindeer constrict, or tighten, their blood vessels, causing less blood to flow and essentially turning down the temperature in their legs. This helps to keep their body heat steady. Bottom-line: Reindeer thrive in the North Pole, where Santa lives!
     
  2. Reindeer can see on the dark! In the winter, the Arctic has very little daylight. Reindeer eyes even change color to let in tiny amounts of light during the very dark winter months. Also, reindeer are some of the only mammals who can see in the ultraviolet; what this means is that they can see objects in the background that humans would not be able to distinguish. Is it any wonder that reindeer can pull Santa’s sleigh through the night?
     

  3. Both male and female reindeer have antlers. (In other deer species, only males have antlers.) In early spring, male reindeer begin to grow antlers. At full size, these will be 20 to 50 inches tall. Antlers begin to appear on female reindeer a few weeks after the males’ start and can grow from 9 to 20 inches tall. All new antlers are covered with protective soft fur, called “velvet.” Reindeer shed their antlers annually and grow a new, larger set every year. 
     
  4. Reindeer have long-distance stamina and speed. First, they normally travel 35 miles in a single day, and can reach speeds of up to 50 miles an hour! Plus, reindeer have a superb sense of smell. This helps them to locate food buried deep in the snow so that they can keep eating as they go and do not need to store up fat like most mammals. They eat simple lichen, which is very accessible on tree trunks and rocks in the Arctic; they have instant nutrition. In other words, Santa’s reindeer can be ready with the energy for a long-haul overnight trip when they’re needed!
     
  5. In bitterly cold weather, the footpads on a reindeer’s hooves shrink and tighten, exposing the rims of its hooves. This helps the reindeer both to pierce through snow as it walks and to dig for food in deep snow. Their wide, crescent-shaped hooves are also very steady and keep them from slipping. Clearly, their sturdy nature make them perfect for Santa’s sleigh and landing on steep roofs while delivering Christmas gifts.

Are Santa’s Reindeer Female?

Let’s get down to big question regarding the big man and his sleigh team.

As we mentioned, both male and female reindeer have antlers. For all members of the deer family, except wild caribou, only the males have antlers! (Reindeer are the domesticated cousins of wild caribou—and are usually about 8 to 10 inches shorter.)

Most male reindeer (bulls) shed their fuzzy antlers before the beginning of winter (late November to mid-December). This is because the mating season occurs in the fall. Once the male reindeer have used their antlers to impress their mates, they no longer have use for them, and they shed them before Christmastime. However, the females retain their antlers until after they give birth to calves in the spring. This gives the expectant mothers a means to protect food resources through the harsh weather.

misfit_full_width.jpgPhoto: Reindeer named “Misfit” with the Reindeer Farm in Indianapolis, Indiana.

So, any reindeer with antlers at Christmastime are females. Then again, what kind of sledder would hook up pregnant females to a sled? Not exactly good animal husbandry, Santa. So it’s quite possible that Santa’s sleigh helpers are castrated males (called steers), which don’t lose their antlers until February or March. Sledders use steers because the bulls are too tired from rutting all the females and too lean to pull a sled through heavy snow. 

Nonetheless, the prevailing theory is that Santa has an all-girl team, complete with the shiny red-nosed Rudolph. Yep, Santa’s reindeer just might be female and don’t mind stopping for directions after all.

All joking aside, we thought this was a fun bit of wildlife trivia!

Are you excited for Christmas this year? See our everything-Christmas page

2023 Almanac Club