Livestock of the Sun
Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus)
Reindeer is an Arctic semi-domesticated animal. The male’s height at the withers is around 110 cm and it weights up to 200 kg. A female’s height at the withers is around 100 cm and it weights up to 100 kg.
Reindeer is a long-legged, four toed herbivore who has adapted well to the harsh, cold and snowy, Arctic climate. The hoofs are shaped as a half circle. Due to that, the surface pressure reindeer causes on snow, is very low. Still, moving in deep soft snow is rather heavy even for reindeer, and they try to avoid it.
Antlers designate one's status in the herd
Both female and male reindeer have solid bone antlers that drop and grow back again once a year. In the deer species, the only female that have antlers are reindeer. The males drop their antlers after the rutting season in November, and females after calving in May. Castrated males drop their antlers usually in mid winter, from December to March.
Reindeer antler is the fastest growing bone in the whole world. In summer, it can grow even two centimeters every day. Reindeer is truly a living bone factory.
The antlers mark reindeer’s status in the herd. When a reindeer loses its antlers, the status weakens. Males use their antlers in the fights during the rutting season. Also calves start growing their antlers already during their first summer, reaching about 20 cm by October. Calves do not have as branchy antlers as the grown ups do. Instead they are usually like two sticks.
The age of a reindeer cannot be estimated on the basis of the antlers, but youngsters have smaller ones until the age of five, and after the age of ten, the size starts to decrease again.
Reindeer comes in many colors
The coloring of reindeer varies from black via many different shades of gray to white. There are dozens of names for reindeer colors in reindeer herder’s vocabulary. For example a dark reindeer is musikki, a light colored is suivakko and white is valkko. The most common color does not have a very imaginative name, though. It is simply ”reindeer colored”.
Reindeer can adjust to changing temperatures
The body of a reindeer is warm under the fur, but its feet are exposed to cold air. They stay warm due to efficient blood circulation and the “oleic acid” in the bone marrow. The blood circulation in the feet is intensified by the vein-artery system that keeps the warmth that blood circulation brings to the feet. When the outdoor temperature goes below freezing, the temperature of a reindeer feet is only a few degrees on plus. The oleic acid works like antifreeze liquids especially on the bottom part of the leg to prevent it from freezing.
Reindeer has adjusted to great changes in temperatures. The difference between summer and winter temperatures can easily be 90 degrees Celsius. Winter fur drops off in summer and new fur starts to grow in August.
Hairs are thick and have heat-insulating air pockets inside. A grown reindeer can have 1700 hairs in square centimeter and the fur is about 4 cm thick. For every outer guard hair there are several under hairs that prohibit the movement of air. The air pockets make the fur light, but well-insulated. Hence, a reindeer survives in -60 degrees of Celsius.
Reindeer fur is known as a very good insulation. No wonder, that reindeer hide is a popular, warm sleeping pad. It resists well damp and keeps warm during the winter.
Smell and sight
The most important sense that reindeer has is smell. Reindeer can smell lichen and other food through really thick snow. Reindeer does not start digging food unless it has a smell of it. That is how it saves the energies needed for survival in harsh winter.
Like other ruminants, reindeer cannot really see colors, but it does see weather something is dark or light. When reindeer escape, they lift their tails up and show the white down side of it to others. The other reindeer running behind follow these tails and the herd has better changes to stay together.
The eye of a reindeer has adjusted well to changing seasons, which helps reindeer to see also in the dark. Reindeer’s eyes even change color in winter. They must cope months of winter darkness and also constant summer sunlight.