Santa’s Reindeer — part of the herd or freaks of nature?

December 16, 2010 by Tails Magazine in Lifestyle with 0 Comments

Many people have long been suspicious that Rudolph, Prancer, Dancer, et al. may be the exception rather than the rule when defining the traits and behaviors of reindeer in general. While there are many similarities between Santa’s personal stable and the 3 million domesticated reindeer in the world, the differences, in some cases, are so profound (the ability to fly, for instance) that there clearly exists the need for scientific data. The following offers a comparison and contrast of the general reindeer population and Santa’s “Legendary Nine.”


Reindeer (general): Latin name is Rangifer tarandus. Some believe the reindeer may be among the first domesticated animals, a notion supported by a letter written in the ninth century by Norway’s King Ottar to Alfred the Great. In the letter Ottar boasts of his “fine herd of over 600 reindeer.”

Reindeer (Santa): Latin name is Rangifer aviatorus anterlicum. Santa’s biographers claim the “merry old soul” first made his presence known in the 1600s. Sinter Klaas, as he was then known, traveled from rooftop to rooftop in the North Pole’s zip codes, delivering presents with the aide of a white horse. Sometime later, Klaas went global with his gift-distribution efforts and enlisted the support of a reindeer team.


Reindeer (general): Reindeer can be found in most parts of the world, although the heaviest concentration exists in arctic and subarctic climates, such as in Canada, Alaska, Siberia, the northern polar circle, and Mongolia. Generally considered friendly and curious and able to thrive on commercial feed, reindeer also grace the farmlands in places like Texas, Alabama and Oklahoma.

Reindeer (Santa): Rudolph and the gang have always lived at the North Pole. Period.

Physical appearance

Reindeer (general): Mostly, reindeer eat lichen, especially in winter. They also feed on birch, grasses, and sedges. In the autumn, they enjoy the special treats of fungi (mushrooms). This paltry diet seems to be all that’s needed to keep reindeer strong and healthy. At their peak, they are capable of pulling twice their weight.

Reindeer (Santa): At a loss as to what to feed his reindeer, Santa called upon the counsel of a neighboring wizard. He gave Santa some magic corn, which Santa fed to his fleet. Within days, the reindeer developed Herculean strength and stamina. With a steady diet of magic corn, all nine reindeer can haul a sleigh loaded with 150,000 pounds of toys for an unlimited amount of time. Rumor has it the reindeer and Santa further fortify themselves with cookies and carrots left out by thoughtful children all over the world on Christmas Eve.

Mating and Procreation

Reindeer (general): Studies have shown that the bulls with the largest antlers have the greatest success during mating season. Gestation period lasts eight moths. It is highly unusual for a cow to give birth to more than one calf at a time. The newborn calf is able to walk within an hour of birth and can outrun a human 24 hours later. The average life expectancy of a cow is 16 years; a bull’s is 13 years.

Reindeer (Santa): Just like in the story of the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus, there are some phenomena that defy logical explanation. We do know that Santa’s reindeer have been around for more than two centuries and never seem to get tired … or old. There have been no reports of procreation among Santa’s herd. Current hypotheses suggest the magic corn may have created adverse side effects in the fleet’s reproductive systems.


Reindeer (general): Reindeer travel in herds ranging in population from 50,000 to 500,000. This can result in as many as 15,000 reindeer per square mile. Typically, their summer and winter ranges cover a distance of 300 to 650 miles. When necessary, they’ve been known to travel as much as 3,000 miles in a year. They can run between 36 and 48 miles an hour and travel between 11 and 33 miles a day. Reindeer are also accomplished swimmers, crossing lakes and rivers at speeds up to six miles per hour.

Reindeer (Santa): Santa’s herd travels in a group of nine. This can result in as many as nine reindeer per square mile. They travel once a year, around the globe, regularly breaking the sound barrier during flight.

In conclusion

As there are still many unanswered questions about how to define the seemingly immortal flying reindeer in concert with the rest of the species, the preliminary similarities and discrepancies described between the two groups may not be considered conclusive. Only after science can produce satisfactory documentation explaining the existence of Santa’s reindeer can we proceed to investigate the big Quark in the equation: Why does Rudolph have a red, glowing nose?

Amy Abern


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