RUDOLPH BE A GIRL'S NAME?
time is once again upon us. And whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas,
Kwanzaa, Three Kings Day, all of the above or none of them, you will
almost certainly share one common bond with your fellow man and woman:
Sometime before the end of December, you will hear a rendition of Rudolph
the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In recognition of that fact, I have reprised
a holiday column from many years ago.
cowboy Gene Autry probably did not believe his own words in 1949 when
he sang that Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer would go down in history.
Small wonder since the song remains the only one in musical history
to be No. 1 on the charts one week and not played at all the next. If
Autry were alive today, he would also be surprised at the suggestion
that Rudolph may be a female reindeer.
continuing threats to small wetlands, challenges to the Endangered Species
Act and debates about global warming, tis the season to be jolly,
and Santa Claus will soon be on his way. Let us, therefore, set the
record straight about the gender of Santas most famous reindeer.
according to some scientists, reindeer and caribou are the same species,
but Rudolph the red-nosed caribou might never have made
the pop singles chart. Reindeer living in the Arctic tundra of North
America are called caribou; those living in the same habitat from Europe
to Siberia are called reindeer. Both belong to the deer family, along
with whitetail deer, elk and moose.
belong to a mammal group known as even toed hoofed animals, which includes
pigs, cattle, buffalo and goats. And let us not forget the biggest of
them all, the hippopotamus. Only members of the deer family have antlers
that are shed each year, rather than horns that persist throughout the
animals life. Reindeer and caribou have another distinctive characteristic
females, as well as males have antlers, leading some iconoclasts to
the heretical idea that Rudolph is a female.
has arisen because female reindeer characteristically keep their antlers
all year whereas males, like other deer, shed them and grow new ones
prior to mating season. But before we bring about a metaphorical sex
change in Rudolph, we will do well to remember that virtually all animals
display vast variability in traits, including antlers. Hence, some female
reindeer actually do not have antlers, in spite of the general rule
that females do. Also, the season in which antlers are dropped varies
greatly. Some individuals can have antlers during almost any time of
year. Wild reindeer and caribou mate in the fall, with males engaging
in contests and using their antlers as weapons. They lose their antlers
after the mating season. But since variations are common in nature,
Rudolph can remain a male reindeer and keep his antlers until Dec. 26.
and caribou are noted for forming large herds and making long range
annual migrations in search of food in the form of grasses and of lichens
known as reindeer moss. A large herd offers protection against natural
predators wolves. Fortunately, Rudolph and his eight reindeer followers
(most with androgynous names) do not have to deal with the likes of
wolves, finding food in the snow or the other perils of living in the
are the only members of the deer family to be successfully domesticated.
They provide meat, milk and cheese, as cattle do elsewhere. Caribou
are wild animals hunted by man (another reason why Rudolph is not the
red-nosed caribou). Reindeer are also used to pull sleds. Youll
have to ask Santa how they learn to fly.
another song in the 1940s that has become a perennial holiday favorite:
Here Comes Santa Claus. As with Rudolph he probably
did not expect it to go down in history either. But it has, and the
jolly old elf, with his red-nosed male reindeer, will be here soon wishing
everyone a Happy Christmas.
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