Partner Series
Are Santa's Reindeer Males?
Santa's sleigh-pullers, including Vixen and Cupid, are likely females.
Credit: Stockxpert

Impossible, scientists say.

Here's why: Here on the ground, male reindeer shed their antlers at the end of the mating season in early December, while females sport their thinner antlers throughout the winter.

Sounds like Rudolph and the gang were all gals.

"It appears that way," said physiologist Perry Barboza of the Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska at Fairbanks, who studies reindeer and their closest cousins, caribou. Scientists consider reindeer and caribou the same species.

Santa, turns out, did some savvy hiring of his prancing parade. These antlered deer (Rangifer tarandus) are used to the cold. They live in Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and Russia, where they graze on tundra plants. So even though pudgy Santa must bundle beneath a red-velvet suit, sleigh-pulling reindeer are naturally covered with hollow hairs that trap in air and keep them well-insulated. Plus, their circulatory systems keep the cooler blood in the reindeer's limbs from drawing heat from the warm blood in their core body.

While all reindeer would be equipped for an Arctic journey, though a flightless one, females might have the edge over their male counterparts.

When the Christmas journey rolls around, male reindeer carry as low as 5 percent body fat, having lost much of their fatty stores during the energy-sapping mating season.

Female reindeer, however, enter winter with about 50 percent body fat, making them "seals on hooves," Barboza said. The fat, which can be a couple of inches thick on their rumps, keeps the reindeer toasty in temperatures as low as minus 45 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 43 degrees Celsius). Which leaves us wondering, however, how they can be "faster than eagles," as legend has it.

Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries. We're also on Facebook & Google+.