It might be tough for Santa and his nine-reindeer sled to pass through airport security, but his world-traveling team of Rudolph and Prancer and the others are among the most interesting of all animals, says a Texas A&M University veterinarian.
When it comes to intriguing Christmas critters, reindeer may top the list, says Alice Blue-McLendon, an exotic animal specialist in Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences who was involved in cloning the world’s first deer in 2003.
“They are majestic animals, but also creatures that have totally adapted to their surroundings and environment,” she notes.
“For starters, reindeer, which are also known as caribou in North America, are almost always on the move — they are one of the most well-traveled of any animal, and their migration routes can cover 2,000 to 3,000 miles in some parts of the world. It’s not unusual for them to travel 35 miles in one day.”
Other notable reindeer facts:
· Both male and female have antlers
· Reindeer are ruminants and their stomach contains four chambers
· Reindeer are excellent swimmers and don’t think twice about crossing any stream or even a large lake
· Male reindeer take their dating seriously: during the three-month mating season that usually runs from September through November, they rarely eat
Their enemies are numerous, and besides being hunted by man, they are attacked by wolves, polar bears, brown bears and wolverines. Even eagles will seek out newborn reindeer
“Since they live in extremely cold areas of the world, reindeer have developed a special way of breathing in which the nasal bones take the inhaled air, it’s warmed by the animal’s body heat before it enters the lungs, and water is taken in and condensed before it finally exhales,” explains Blue-McLendon, who has studied reindeer and other exotic animals at Texas A&M for more than 25 years.
“They also are the original ‘dress-in-layers’ animal because they have two coats — a coat of fur and a woolly type of undercoat of hairs to keep them warm,” she adds. “In the early days of Alaska’s history, some mail routes were made with sleds pulled by reindeer, so it’s likely they even delivered some Christmas cards, too.”