by Vic Schoonover
December 24, 2013
For those who don’t believe Santa’s reindeer can fly from the North Pole each Christmas Eve, Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University emeritus animal scientist, has a good explanation of how they might be able to accomplish this phenomenon.
“Have you ever wondered how Santa’s reindeer can make that monumental journey on Christmas Eve?,” Selk asked. “Let’s look into some key facts about reindeer that may help us understand how they get St.Nick on his appointed rounds over the world.”
First, Selk said, historians report reindeer have been domesticated by humans for over 5,000 years. Since Santa himself is no spring chicken, he said, we can assume they have worked together for quite awhile. They should not have any trouble finding their way around, he said. There is no need to worry about them losing their way, he said.
“We do know reindeer are ruminants,” he said. “They are like cattle in this regard. They have four compartments to their stomach. Of course, Santa gets them filled up with hay and moss before he leaves the North Pole, so they should have plenty of feed stored in their four compartments to make it all around the globe. Also, cattle nutritionists have known for years hay digests more slowly than grain, therefore, the big meal the reindeer eat before the journey should last even longer.
“Or just like your mom says, ‘it’ll stick to their ribs,’” he said.
As for drinking water that should be no problem either, Selk said. In their homeland the water is all frozen so they are used to getting the moisture they need by eating snow. So as the sleigh is parked on snowy rooftops in cold weather cities, the reindeer can take on the moisture they need if they get thirsty, he said.
But how do they keep warm while flying around on Christmas Eve, he asked?
The reindeer coat is made of two layers, an outer layer of bristles and an inner layer of dense fur. The fur they have is very thick ad can hold a lot of air. The “blanket” of insulation combining fur and air helps keep them warm inn even the coldest of climates. Plus flying around Christmas night in many areas of the world where it is warmer than where they live should not be a problem, he said.
“How do they fly?” he asked. Well, that is a tough question, he said. Let’s look at what we know about them. Reindeer are amazingly fast runners on the ground. University of Alaska researchers report a newborn baby reindeer at one day of age can out run the fastest graduate student, he said. By the time they are fully grown it is hard to tell what speeds they can reach.
Next remember those huge antlers. Antlers of adult reindeer can be as much as four feet long, he said. Just think about this, he said.
“Each reindeer has two sets, that’s eight feet of antlers and with eight reindeer, or nine, if we count Rudolph on foggy nights, that is 64 to 72 feet of total antler span,” he said. “A typical small Cessna airplane only has about 36 feet of wingspan. Certainly, it seems possible those eight reindeer running that fast with all that antler span could get off the ground.”
There are a couple of myths about reindeer we should clear up, Selk said. We have all heard the poem stating they have tiny reindeer feet. Actually, he said, they have a very wide large hoof they use at home to dig through the show to find grass and moss to eat.
“You have to think those wide hooves would come in handy for sliding to rather sudden stops on the small landing sites Santa has to work with on Christmas Eve.”
Selk said you have probably heard the song about “up on the house click, click, click.”
Well, it is true reindeer do make a clicking sound as they walk. But they have a tendon that snaps over a bone joint and makes a clicking sound on every step, he said.
“These are a few facts about Santa’s reindeer,” he said. “Maybe this will help understand that age-old mystery occurring every Christmas Eve.”