If you think the only interesting facts about reindeer have to do with the flying abilities of Santa’s herd and a certain beloved, red-nosed creature often depicted in song, you might be in for a surprise. These beautiful animals are, in fact, absolutely fascinating even without all the winter tales and legends, and there are some extremely interesting facts about reindeer many people don’t know about.
1. Reindeer and Caribou
One of the most intriguing facts about reindeer has to do with their so-called relatives, the caribou. Reindeer and caribou are, in fact, two names for the same species, the former being a term referring to a domesticated caribou used by humans to pull the sled.
2. Flying Reindeer
Clement Clarke Moore’s “Night before Christmas” written in 1822 is seen as the origin of the legends depicting Santa’s flying reindeer. It turns out this is actually a much older tale, as flying reindeer were depicted more than 4000 years ago on ancient Mongolian monoliths. The natives in this area even had myths about the creatures’ ability to “ascend to the heavens” and would often wear tattoos portraying them.
3. Reindeer and the Sami
The Sami are people from Norway, Northern Finland, Sweden, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia who rely heavily on their herds of reindeer for food and transportation. Reindeer are an important part of their culture, and they actually have more than 400 words for the various tools, foods and other products they can fashion with the help of their animal friends.
4. A Strong Sense of Smell
Among the most fascinating facts about reindeer that researchers have discovered is their incredible sense of smell. The creatures are very fond of eating certain types of lichen, and they have the ability to detect their prized food even when it’s buried 2-3 feet under heavy snow.
5. How do They Keep Warm?
In the winter, their coats turn to an enchanting creamy color that would put any other animal to shame. The most fascinating thing about it, however, is that the fur is actually hollow inside, much like air-filled winter jackets. Along with their natural ability to adjust their internal temperature, this makes them the perfectly fit to survive freezing winters.
It’s no secret that reindeer have beautiful antlers unique to their species. But did you know these antlers actually grow back and are shed very quickly each year? This is made possible by an unusual type of material named “Velvet” – since that’s exactly what it looks like – that makes the production of fast-growing bone possible. Some specialists think this material may hold some answers to effectively fending off bone cancer.
7. Changing Eye Colors
Real-world reindeer may not be able to fly, but they do have a cool superpower: they are the only mammals with the ability to change their eye color. In the summer, their eyes turn into a beautiful golden shade to reflect more sunlight, while in winter they boast a considerably darker, bluish color. Reindeer are also some of the very few animals that are capable of seeing in ultraviolet.
Doesn't knowing these facts make you love these beautiful, majestic creatures even more? And there are probably a lot more fascinating and mysterious things about Santa’s flying helpers that we haven’t even discovered yet. Do you have a favorite or have you heard of other interesting findings related to reindeer?