Rudolph the red-nosed (pregnant, female) caribou


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Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2007, 9:36 pm
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"Come on, you cows, let's hit the next roof!"

OK, so this isn't close to what Santa Claus really shouted to his eight tiny reindeer. But, putting all the magic and mystery of Christmas aside, he certainly could have.

As anyone who knows anything about reindeer will tell you -- and that someone would be Donna Naughton, a researcher at the Canadian Museum of Nature who is writing a book on all animals Canadian ...

"Santa's sleigh was pulled by cows," she said, "meaning female reindeer or caribous."

And if Dasher, Dancer, Vixen and all the rest had been real reindeer -- rather than the magical Christmas reindeer -- they probably would have been pregnant.

Naughton knows this because:

All male caribou and reindeer (for the record, reindeer are domesticated caribou) drop their antlers by mid-November. So Santa's antlered sleigh-pullers couldn't be boys.

Female caribou and reindeer -- the only female deer that possess antlers -- typically are pregnant by mid-November. They give birth to a single calf in late May or June.

So odds are that Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen were carrying little Christmas packages of their own.

Eight tiny reindeer?

And if Clement C. Moore's 1822 poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas," is correct and Santa's reindeer are "tiny," they probably wouldn't have been brown, as in most illustrations. They would have been white.

That's because, in general, the most well-known species of caribou and reindeer -- such as Canada's woodland caribou and barren-ground caribou or the mountain reindeer of Northern Europe -- are large and brownish.

But the tiniest reindeer on Earth are the short, stubby-legged Svalbard reindeer of Norway and the graceful Peary caribou of the Canadian arctic. Both have white coats in the winter.

But Noughton said a Svalbard reindeer "looks like a miniature pony." Not real Christmas-y.

More rapid than eagles

If Santa chose any reindeer, Noughton said, it most likely would be the Peary caribou. Currently on Canada's endangered species list, the Peary caribou (named for Arctic explorer Adm. Robert Peary) live closer to the North Pole than any other caribou or reindeer.

And to watch them run, it would be easy to imagine them flying.

"Caribous are fantastic," Noughton said. "Pearys have a way of striding that looks like they're almost floating. I can see why Santa chose caribous."

Unlike the wild caribous of Canada and the arctic, the reindeer of Northern Europe and Northern Asia have been domesticated and bred for centuries to be used for meat, milk and, indeed, to pull sleighs.

Russell and Elizabeth Bumgarner, who own the Reindeer Lane Christmas Tree Farm in Trimble, Mo., keep what they call four "miniature reindeer" on their 23 acres. All males, they are neither reindeer nor caribou, Bumgarner said. They're sika deer -- tiny, elegant deer less than 4-feet-tall with long, arching antlers. Related to elk, they are native to the forests of East Asia.

"You can't domesticate these guys," Bumgarner said. "They have a will of their own. They're high-spirited. I swear they can fly."

Such a clatter

Speaking of flying: Remember the line from the song, "Up on the Housetop" in which the reindeer paws go "click, click, click" before Old St. Nick goes down through the chimney?

Curt Gindlesperger, who cares for six male reindeer at the Cleveland Metropark Zoo, says the lyric is more than a rhyme. It makes biological reindeer sense.

"They have a tendon on the back of their feet that click when they walk," he said. "You can hear it."

Come this Christmas Eve night, maybe you will.














 



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  Today is Thursday, July 31, the 212th day of 2014. There are 153 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: A corps of surgeons now occupies the new hospital quarters at the Garrison Hospital on the Rock Island Arsenal. A fence has been installed to enclose the prison hospital.
1889 -- 125 years ago: B. Winter has let a contract to Christ Schreiner for a two story brick building with a double store front on the south side of 3rd Avenue just west of 17th Street. The estimated cost was $4,500.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Germany sent simultaneous ultimatums to Russia and France, demanding that Russia suspend mobilization within 12 hours and demanding that France inform Germany within 18 hours. In the case of war between Germany and Russia, France would remain neutral.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Civil service offices at the post office and the Rock Island Arsenal were swamped as more than 700 youths sought 15 machinist apprenticeships at the Arsenal.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Last night, American Legion Post 246 in Moline figuratively handed over the trousers to a female ex-Marine and petticoat rule began. Olga Swanson, of Moline, was installed as the first woman commander of the post .
1989 -- 25 years ago: The Illinois Quad City Civic Center captured the excitement and interest of a convention of auditorium managers this weekend in Reno, Nev. Bill Adams, civic center authority chairman, said the 10,000-seat arena planned for downtown Moline has caught the eye of construction firms, suppliers, management teams and concession groups.








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