Animal IQ

Santa's Reindeer Are Probably Female

C'mon, you know the words: Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose, and if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows. All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names — wait one second. Him? If Santa's reindeer are like most, they probably aren't male. The winter antlers are a dead giveaway.

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Antlers might be a reindeer's most unique trait. Whereas in most deer species only the adult males grow antlers, reindeer don't discriminate: males, females, adults, and calves all sport stylish racks atop their heads. Reindeer also have the largest and heaviest antlers of all deer species on Earth, relative to body size.

Like other deer, reindeer shed their antlers every year, but not at the same time. Males shed their antlers in winter right after the mating season, since they no longer have to show off to the ladies. Females shed theirs in summer right after giving birth to their calves, since they primarily use their antlers to forage for food in the snow and can afford to get rid of them when the weather is warm.

Santa's from Mars, Rudolph's from Venus

So if males shed their antlers in winter, females are the only ones with horns majestic enough to lead Santa's sleigh during the Christmas season. That is, if you don't get all technical on us. Sledders usually use castrated males, called steers, to pull their sleighs, because they don't get tuckered out after mating season. Steers shed their antlers around the same time females do. Maybe Santa just neuters his reindeer like every good pet owner.

Same goes for young'uns — male reindeer don't start shedding antlers in winter every year until they're older. But that would require Rudolph to be played by a rotating cast of young males, rather than one female who just happens to be named "Rudolph." Occam's Razor, we say!

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For more behind-the-scenes tidbits on Christmas traditions, check out "Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas" by Ace Collins. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer December 19, 2017

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