By Terri Estes

Did you know that reindeer are caribou? That’s right, they are the same species. We call wild reindeer caribou while domestic reindeer are called reindeer in North America. In Europe and Asia, both the wild and domestic are called reindeer. Domesticated reindeer have been selectively bred over hundreds of years to make them less migratory. They are generally smaller than wild reindeer.

Reindeer are native to the Arctic and subarctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. In North America, they are found in Alaska, Canada, Greenland (and the North Pole). The largest herd of reindeer (caribou) is the Porcupine Caribou Herd. It migrates between Alaska and Canada, and its population size has been estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands during peak time.

Both male and female reindeer have antlers, however, males typically have larger, more robust antlers. They are well-adapted to harsh cold climates and their fur is dense and provides great insulation against the cold. They are herbivores and their diet consists of grasses and mosses (and lots of carrots on Christmas Eve). In the winter, when food is scarce, they use their hooves to dig through snow to reach plants. Their hooves also have special traction that helps them maneuver through ice and snow.

Wild reindeer or caribou are larger than domestic reindeer. In the wild, adult males weigh 300 to 500lbs while females weigh 250 to 350lbs. On average, the weight of domestic males is 200 to 300lbs with females weighing between 150 to 200 lbs. Reindeer have a unique adaption to breathing in iced cold air. Their nose can warm the air before it enters their lungs. This is referred to as the “reindeers nasal heat exchanger.” Another interesting fact is that reindeer are the only animal known to change eye color depending on the season. In the summer, their eyes are golden orange. They transition to bright blue in the winter months.  Scientists believe this color change helps them see better in the dark winter months.

Perhaps their winter night vision is the reason that Santa has chosen the reindeer as the animal to guide him on his annual Christmas Eve voyage. That, and the fact that not many other animals can tolerate the weather in the North Pole as well as they can. Whatever the reason, I’ll be sure to keep an eye in the sky on Christmas Eve!

On Dasher, on Dancer on Prancer and Vixen, on Comet and Cupid and Donder and Blitzen! And of course – Rudolph!!

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