The Science Behind Santa’s Reindeer

Why do reindeer’s hooves make clicking sounds?
What do reindeer use their antlers for?
How do reindeer stay warm in the winter?

Watch this video to hear Naturalist Colin McNulty give us the answers!

Colin McNulty is a naturalist of Lindblad Expeditions.  I had the honor to interview him during a Lindblad Expedtion aboard the National Geographic Explorer as a 2015 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow.  The video was shot by guest Patti Freudenburg during a hike on the shore of Arctic Svalbard in June 2015.

There are anywhere from 9-13 subspecies (depending on who is classifying them) of reindeer on our planet.  By the way a reindeer and a caribou are the same thing.  A Svalbard reindeer is 1 of the types of reindeer.  They are the smallest of them all.  They are endemic to the archipelago (chain of islands) of Arctic Svalbard, meaning they are only found on Svalbard.  I took the below pictures of Svalbard reindeer.


The different subspecies of reindeer are classified by their overall size, fur color, and size/shape of their heads.


Do you think these reindeer are males or females?

If you were trying to identify their gender by their antlers, it’d be very difficult to determine!  In most subspecies of reindeer, both boy and girl reindeer have antlers!  Females shed their antlers in the summer, while males shed them in late autumn.


Are you surprised by how small their antlers are here?  Or maybe you’re surprised by the lack of snow in these images?  Well, June is Arctic summer where temperatures reach into the high 30’s/low 40’s.  The snow has melted.  That adaptation where Colin described their antlers’ use for shoveling snow to reach food – it’s not needed in June as much with less snow.

Reindeer are usually found in groups.

For all of you kids reading this blog, I should let you know that I did see Santa Claus’ mailbox!  It is in the furtherest northern settlement:  Longyearbyen, Arctic Svalbard, Norway!  It is 9 meters tall!  Really – look at how tall it is compared to the 1 story building next to it!  Were you one of the 10,000 kids that sent a letter to this mailbox this Christmas? !  And I did see several reindeer walking around the mailbox.  I wondered if the Svalbard reindeer I saw were the type that Santa uses?

Santa Claus’ mailbox is about 800 miles away from the North Pole.

Well, I actually saw Santa today (Dec. 24) at breakfast! When I asked him which subspecies he prefers, he said “the flying one!”  So, there are many magical mysteries that remain around this time of year:
*How does Santa train the flying subspecies to move SO fast?!
*How does Santa read all of the letters that fill up a 3-story mailbox?!

Santa breakfast

“What to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, with a little old driver so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick….And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof the prancing and pawing of each little hoof…..

“Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

-Clement Clark Moore-


Note:  No reindeer were harmed in the creation of this blog.


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