You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. But do you remember that those reindeer, and the most famous reindeer of all, Rudolph, could actually be females?
The reindeer that pull Santa’s sleigh across the world were first introduced in Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “‘Twas the Night before Christmas”, but Rudolph was not added until that a Robert L. May coloring book in 1939 showed a red reindeer on the nose.
Since then, the reindeer, especially Rudolph, has become one of the most iconic symbols of Christmas. But in Gene Autry’s 1949 hit song about the red nosed reindeer, Rudolph is referred to as a male while the famous and brilliant reindeer may in fact be female.
Alice Blue-McLendon, deer expert, director of the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center and associate professor of veterinary physiology and pharmacology at Texas A&M University, said a fascinating thing about reindeer is that they are the only species of deer where males and females grow antlers.
Reindeer usually shed their antlers towards the end of the year. Males typically do this in late fall, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. However, females shed their antlers in the winter, unless they are pregnant, and their antlers usually remain until the calves are born in the spring.
So if Santa’s reindeer are sighted with their antlers around this time, they are not only likely females, but they could also be expected.
“I think Santa Claus promotes gender diversity and realizes that girls are strong too,” Blue-McLendon told USA TODAY. “Mother Nature probably gave the females antlers so that they could compete for food in the snow.”
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Blue-McLendon also pointed out that some of the names for reindeer, like Prancer and Dancer, appear to be more feminine names, so Santa knows what gender his sled shooters are.
“We can’t really say what gender they are, but in all likelihood there’s both; there’s a mix of men and women,” Blue-McLendon said. “I wish Santa could tell us that.”
The only variable for Santa’s reindeer is whether the males are castrated or not, as these male reindeer have antler growth patterns similar to those of the females.
But if she were to guess, Blue-McLendon thinks Rudolph is actually a man, purely because of his name. Still, it’s not bad to have the mix of female and male reindeer together. Blue-McLendon said male and female reindeer each have their own unique characteristics that make them well suited for ensuring gifts arrive on time.
“It’s all about diversity, and different genders have different skills and strengths,” she said. “Santa Claus also loves the girls on his team.”
Female reindeer may not be the only surprising fact about these creatures. In the Christmas classic, all the other reindeer used to laugh and call Rudolph by names because of his red nose which helped him make history.
It turns out that red noses in reindeer are very common because there is increased blood flow to the nose to keep the skin warm when brushing against snow, according to a 2012 study published in the journal BMJ.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @ jordan_mendoza5.