5 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Reindeer

I don’t know about you, but I don’t give reindeer a millisecond of thought until I start singing about Rudolph. However, this is Rudolph time and I found an incredibly fascinating fact about reindeer two years ago that has stuck in my mind. So I looked up a few more and now you have a handful of interesting tidbits that will make you look really smart when you insert them into your next holiday gathering. If you add information from last year’s post about professional Santas, you’ll be a veritable treasure trove of Christmas lore. You’re welcome.

#5 Antlers

Just like human fingerprints, no two antlers are alike. Both male and female reindeer have antlers. Females shed their antlers in the summer, males in early December. Since Santa’s reindeer have antlers, it’s likely they are females.

Antlers are rubbery, only hardening when full grown.Β  Full-sized antlers on males can be three feet long.

#4 Noses

Reindeer noses warm the air before the animals breathe it into their lungs. The warm air is wetter so it also keeps the reindeer’s nose nice and moist. I was unable to find out if reindeer could develop head colds but, with these noses, I’m thinking probably not.

#3 Knees

Some subspecies of reindeer have knees that make a clicking noise while they walk. The sound helps them stay together when they can’t see each other in a blizzard. ( Isn’t this a great excuse? If your knees click when you walk, you can now be the envy of all your friends.)reindeer lined up as in a race

#2 Migration

There are some subspecies of reindeer that travel over 3,100 miles per year, averaging 23 miles a day. This is a longer distance than any other migrating land mammal.

At top speed, these reindeer travel 80 kms (50 miles) per hour. Even a day-old reindeer calf can outrun an Olympic sprinter. Reindeer are also strong swimmers. They can swim four to six miles in an hour.

If they ever start riding bicycles, they’re going to sweep all of the triathlon awards. Just saying.

#1 The Reindeer Fact That’s Stuck in My Brain

“Reindeer herds run anti-clockwise. Always. Except when they are out of control. A clockwise running herd is disturbed and dangerous.” – On Trying to Keep StillΒ  byΒ Jenny Diski (2006)

The sentence that prefaced the above quote was, “Here’s a bit of traditional knowledge you might find useful one day.” Thanks, Ms. Diski, I did.

Merry Christmas.


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  1. Hi Karen, I didn’t know that reindeer’s knees clicked. Live and learn. I have always imagined reindeer to be placid and timid. They aren’t. They are wild animals and need to protect themselves. When we visited the area north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden a few years ago, we saw the Sami try to corral them into a fenced-in area. The reindeer fought them every step of the way, and when the Sami tried to harness a few of them for a reindeer ride, one of the deer bite the handler’s hand as he tried to wrestle the deer to the ground. Definitely not timid and placid!
    Have a Merry Christmas!

    1. Jenny Diski is a travel writer. When she went to see reindeer herding in Lapland, she had the same experience – an assumption that reindeer are placid quickly supplanted by the reality of them being wild animals.
      Merry Christmas to you too, and to Walter, Jeff and your grandchildren.

  2. Interesting post, Karen! Thanks for sharing. I love learning new things about nature. And when my knees start clicking, I can tell people it is so I can be followed in a blizzard. Cool!
    Merry Christmas to you and yours!


  3. Better not mix up the “good” and “bad” direction of a running herd, in case we meet one. Then again, I have clicking knees, so I might fit in, regardless. The only time I saw living reindeer so far, was recently in the San Diego Zoo. And, the keepers had strategically placed a Christmas tree nearby. πŸ™‚

    1. So true, Liesbet, although I’m thinking that if I’m ever near a herd of stampeding reindeer (somehow I think of them as stampeding rather than running), I suspect I will be way too terrified to be paying any attention to whether they’re moving in a counter-clockwise or clockwise direction.
      Amazing isn’t it how mythology comes into play. I, for one, so strongly associate reindeer with Christmas that I totally expect to see them near Christmas trees. Ridiculous, I know!

  4. Those are some interesting reindeer facts, Karen and very timely since it is the Christmas season. Thanks for sharing things that make you go hmmm…once again.

    I did know about #5 with the rubbery until full grown antlers thing. I remember visiting a petting zoo and being able to go into an enclosure to pet and feed the reindeer. I do remember the antlers being rubbery because one bonked me on the shoulder with one antler. The rest of the facts I did not have a clue about. Hey, my knees don’t click but my hips do…so people could still follow me in a snowstorm. πŸ˜‰ I must leave soon for dinner and a concert we have reservations for so no long comment from me right now. That doesn’t mean I won’t come back later to comment some more. πŸ˜‰ LOL πŸ˜€

  5. Wow Karen – I guess I never really thought about reindeer one way or the other. The next time I’m in proximity to one though, I will certainly see if their knees click. Great post!

    1. I’m with you, Anna. Until I start humming “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” I give not one millisecond of brainpower to the existence of reindeer. You’ll have to let us know when you’re in proximity to a reindeer. I hope it’s in a zoo!

  6. Thanks, Karen, for such a fun and interesting post. I’ll playfully quiz my nieces and nephews on reindeer when we meet next week. I’ll be the coolest aunt πŸ™‚ Merry Christmas!

  7. Living in southern Canada, I have not seen or come across actual real reindeer until one day we went to the African Lion Safari just outside of Toronto, where they had…reindeer!

    I had always pictured Santa’s sleigh to be pulled by majestic large beasts. Large like a deer, or a moose. Did you know they are not big? They are dainty, little, mini-deer-like creatures, and they’re adorable.


    1. I didn’t know that, Claudette. I too assumed they were moose sized. Thanks for sharing. If I update the post in a future year, I’ll definitely add your info about size. Merry Christmas.

  8. Love this, Karen! Especially the knee clicking fact. Do you suppose we boomers can use this technique to stay together? And I can’t say I’m surprised to learn that Santa’s reindeer are female. After all, it is our fair sex that makes Christmas the wonderful holiday it is! πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‚

    1. Somehow I knew the knee clicking fact would appeal to you, Molly πŸ™‚ And yes, a great way for us boomers to stay together. Our own form of Morse code.
      Merry Christmas!

  9. I have also noticed that, unless instructed otherwise, skaters at a rink always skate counterclockwise. Something that reindeer and skaters have in common!


        1. Maybe… assuming that the majority of skaters are right-handed as the majority of people are. As a leftie, I’m also left-leg dominant.
          You’re probably right, although I like my fanciful explanation better πŸ™‚

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