You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall that these reindeer, and the most famous reindeer of all, Rudolph, might actually be females?
The reindeer that pull Santa Claus’ sleigh across the world were first introduced in Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “‘Twas the Night before Christmas,” but Rudolph wasn’t added until a coloring book by Robert L. May in 1939 showed a red-nosed reindeer.
Since then, the reindeer, especially Rudolph, have become some of the most iconic symbols of Christmas. But in the hit 1949 song by Gene Autry about the red-nosed reindeer, Rudolph is referred to as male when the famously bright reindeer may actually 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 one fascinating thing about reindeer is they are the only deer species where both males and females grow antlers.
Reindeer typically shed their antlers in the later parts of the year. Males usually do so around the late fall, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. However, females shed their antlers in the winter, unless if they are pregnant, and then their antlers typically stay on until the calves are born in the spring.
So if Santa’s reindeer are spotted with their antlers on around this time, they are not only likely female but also could be expecting.
“I think that Santa promotes gender diversity and realizes that the girls are strong, too,” Blue-McLendon told USA TODAY. ” Mother Nature probably gave the females antlers so that they could compete for finding food in the snow.”
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Blue-McLendon also pointed out that some of the names of the reindeer, like Prancer and Dancer, appear to be more feminine names, so Santa knows what gender his sleigh-pullers are.
“We can’t really say which gender they are, but in all likelihood, there’s both; there’s a mix of male and female,” said Blue-McLendon. “I wish Santa could tell us.”
The one variable for Santa’s reindeer is whether or not the males are castrated because those male reindeer have antler growing patterns similar to females.
But if she had to guess, Blue-McLendon thinks Rudolph is in fact a male, only 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 traits that make them well suited to make sure presents arrive on time.
“It’s all about diversity, and different genders have different skillsets and different strengths,” she said. “Santa likes girls on his team, too.”
Female reindeers may not be the only surprising fact about these creatures. In the Christmas classic, all other reindeer used to laugh and call Rudolph names due to his red nose that helped put him down in history.
It turns out red noses in reindeer are very common because there is an increase in blood flow to the nose to keep the skin warm when grazing the snow, according to a 2012 study published in the journal BMJ.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.