IS NOT TOO LATE FOR QUESTIONS ABOUT REINDEER
December 27, 2009
around Christmas, I receive questions about reindeer. The following are
some I received recently.
Q. Are reindeer
real and can they fly? My know-it-all brother says they are not even a
reindeer are real. As real as caribou. In fact, by some scientific accounts,
reindeer are the same species as the caribou that lives in North America.
Reindeer live in Eurasia. Both are animals of the Arctic tundra and belong
to a group known as the even-toed hoofed animals. They are more closely
related to pigs, cattle, buffalo, and goats than to the odd-toed mammals
that include horses, zebras, and rhinoceroses. But among even-toed mammals,
only members of the deer family have antlers that are shed each year,
rather than horns that persist throughout the animal's life. Reindeer
and caribou are even further distinctive in that the females as well as
the males have antlers. As far as I know, reindeer only fly in books,
pictures, and people's imaginations.
Q. How many
kinds of deer live in the United States?
the caribou, five U.S. species are in the deer family--mule deer, whitetail
deer, elk, and moose. Although caribou are mainly in the Arctic regions
of Canada where the ground remains permanently frozen, a few are still
found in northern Idaho, and large numbers live in Alaska.
Q. Do people
caribou are still wild animals sought by hunters, reindeer are domesticated
throughout much of their range in Europe and Asia. In fact, the reindeer
is the only member of the deer family that has been successfully domesticated,
providing not only meat but milk and cheese as domesticated cattle do
in other regions. Reindeer are also used to pull sleds, an obvious starting
point for stories about Santa's flying team. They are probably hunted
some places, because some hunters will hunt anything that moves, but their
greatest contribution to humans is through their services as domesticated
Q. Do reindeer
migrate the way caribou do in Canada? If so, why do they move such long
A. Wild reindeer
and caribou are both noted for forming larger herds than other species
of deer and for making long-range migrations over the course of a year.
Both their herding tendencies and their constant travel are a necessity.
During winter they must move continually through the snow fields of the
Arctic to find food. Beneath the snow, which they clear away by pawing
with their hooves, they may find grasses, mosses, and lichens, which are
also known as reindeer moss. A large herd can quickly deplete the available
forage in an area and must soon be on the move again to find more food.
of forming large herds is in part a protection against their most common
natural predator--wolves. A caribou or reindeer traveling alone would
be easy prey for a pack of wolves. But predators have more difficulty
surprising an enormous herd as it moves through the frozen northlands.
The many eyes, ears, and noses provide an early-warning system for escape.
Wolves usually concentrate their attacks on stragglers that are sick or
migrate, so what happens to the babies that get born during migration?
A. Wild reindeer
and caribou mate in the fall, with the males engaging in contests in which
they use their antlers as weapons. Although both sexes have antlers, males'
antlers are proportionately larger. As with many other hoofed animals
that live in open areas where large predators pose a hazard, a newborn
reindeer or caribou is ready to move soon after birth. Caribou have their
young in late spring, and a healthy baby is on its feet and able to keep
up with a moving herd within an hour after birth.
question has nothing whatever to do with reindeer, but I did, for some
reason, receive it last week.
Q. What do
a chicken and a turtle have in common?
A. Both are
vertebrate animals that lay eggs, and both cross roads to get to the other
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