Sunday, December 6, 2009

Apple #424: Reindeer

I'm thinking I might do some Christmas-related entries. I don't know yet if every entry I do this month will be about a Christmas topic. That might get a bit tiresome. Or we all might enjoy it. We'll see. But for right now, I'd like to talk about reindeer.

A reindeer, doing one of the things reindeer love best -- eating.
(Photo from the Polar Trec)

  • Reindeer are semi-domesticated caribou. They are the only type of deer that has been domesticated.
  • Reindeer were domesticated some 7,000 years ago, longer ago than the horse.
  • They're very similar to their cousins the wild caribou, but they are a bit smaller, they have shorter legs, and their fur is lighter colored.
  • They live on the tundra in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia, northern Russia and norther Asia. In the lower 50 states, breeders keep herds fed on commercial feed and raise them in places as far south as the Midwest, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Texas.

This male reindeer, the Rock, lives in Lake Crystal, Minnesota.
(Photo from Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association)

  • Reindeer's hooves are broad and flatten out, which makes it easier for them to walk on top of snow or soft ground.
  • Their hooves are also good at digging down through the snow to the grass beneath.
  • They can run fast. Their thick fur, which traps and insulates air, also makes them good swimmers.
  • They like to eat lichen, and they eat a lot of leaves (birch and willow are their favorites) and grass, and mushrooms. They eat 12 pounds of plants each day.

Reindeer, headin' down the highway. Probably looking for more food.
(Photo from the Wonderopolis)

  • I'm amazed that this is all they eat because they can weigh between 200 and 600 pounds.
  • Reindeer live in herds, which may vary in size from 20 deer to thousands. The herd is always traveling, searching for more green food for everyone to eat.

This reindeer herd lives in Sweden.
(Photo by Mats Andersson)

  • They really hate flies and they will seek out breezy places, shorelines, or high peaks to get away from them in the summer. In the winter, though they tend to seek shelter, they also look for open spaces where the wind might have blown the snow off the grass.
  • The males have a white furry mantle around their necks called a mane. They also get a little chin beard.
  • Both the male and female get antlers each year. 
  • The males lose their antlers in winter, but the females keep theirs all through winter until they give birth in the spring.

This is George. He lives near Palmer, Alaska. You can see the velvet on his antlers. Velvet is a furry skin with blood vessels that covers the antlers until they are fully grown and hardened. When the antlers are hard enough, around August, the reindeer will rub off the velvet and the males will fight each other.
(Photo from Reindeer Farm's Photostream)

  • Of course the males fight each other with their antlers. In the fall, their necks swell up and they get protective of the females and aggressive with each other. They'll fight and work out who belongs with whom for a few months.

Very blurry photo of males fighting. It's hard to make out the details, but it gives you the sense of the herd as well as the fight.
(Photo from Microkhan)

  • The males will mate with a harem -- this is the word the sites use -- of about 5 to 15 female reindeer.
  • In the spring, when the female is ready to give birth, she leaves the herd and finds a secluded spot somewhere not too far from the summer grazing area. Each year she's pregnant, she'll come back to that same spot to give birth.
  • The reindeer is born in late May or early June, weighs 11 to 20 pounds, and stands within minutes of birth.
  • At one day old, a reindeer can outrun a grown man.

A reindeer fawn named Thunder, only a few days old, from Knoxville, Tennessee
(Photo from Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association)

  • The fawn's coat is not speckled with camouflage but looks the same as its parents.
  • The fawn will grow really fast, so that by the time it is only four months old, it will weigh about 90 pounds.
  • Young deer will start growing antlers at one year old.

Female reindeer and fawn, both with antlers. Since the fawn's are just sprouting, it's probably about a year old.
(Photo from Wonder Club)

By the way, the reindeer names in the song are
  • Dasher
  • Dancer
  • Prancer
  • Vixen
  • Comet
  • Cupid
  • Donner
  • Blitzen
  • Rudolph
But I think real-life reindeer are cooler than the ones in the song.

Bear Country USA, Reindeer
Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association, Reindeer Info
Wonder Club, Reindeer
Enchanted Learning, Reindeer
Reindeer Learning Zone

1 comment:

  1. They look so sweet. It must get pretty crowded in a pen full of mature animals with all of those antlers! Keep the Christmas posts coming; I think they're great!


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