15 Surprising Facts About Reindeer

Portrait of Deer on Snow
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Have you ever wondered if reindeer are real because they’re linked to Santa Claus? Well, guess what? They totally are! These amazing fluffy animals with big antlers live in chilly areas like the Arctic and forests in North America, Europe, and Siberia. They can’t fly like in stories, but they’re excellent swimmers and can even see what we can’t. Apart from appearing in stories and holiday movies—not many people know a lot about them. Here are surprising facts about reindeer!

Reindeer and caribou are basically twins

brown moose on gray field
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People used to think that European/Asian reindeer and American Caribou were two separate kinds of animals. However, they’re actually the exact same species! Reindeer are divided into two main groups: those living in the tundra and those living in woodland. These groups are based on where the animals live—not on where they are in the world. And get this—they’re split into even smaller groups called subspecies.

Reindeer hooves change with the seasons

brown horse with white snow on head
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Living in tough places means reindeer have to adapt their bodies when the seasons change. When winter comes, their footpads get smaller and tougher, according to the World Animal Foundation. This helps their hooves grip onto icy and snowy ground better. But when it’s summer, those footpads change again—they become spongy, which is perfect for walking on the soft tundra.

Both girl and boy reindeer grow antlers

Brown Deer Standing
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Unlike most other kinds of deer, both male and female reindeer grow antlers. The boys use theirs primarily for fighting over females, while the girls use theirs mainly for finding food, says the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Male antlers can get very big—up to around 50 inches long, while female antlers are usually smaller—reaching up to about 20 inches.

Reindeer fur has special hollow hairs for staying warm

shadow depth of field photography of deer
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You might think that the thicker the fur, the warmer the reindeer in the Arctic. Well, it’s not quite that simple. According to research, Reindeer have a dense wooly layer underneath, but their top layer is made of longer, hollow hairs. These hollow hairs trap air—acting like a cozy blanket to keep the reindeer warm in the cold. And guess what? The hollow spaces in their coats are what make them look white!

Reindeer are amazing swimmers

A Deer with Antler Near the River
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That fluffy coat isn’t just for keeping reindeer warm—it also makes them great swimmers! They’re so good at it that you can often see them crossing the huge Yukon River, which is very wide in some places. Even in rough waters—they power through with strong strokes. Did you know they can swim up to 6 miles per hour? That’s three times faster than the average person swims.

Male reindeer are called bulls, not bucks

Brown Deer Photo
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Reindeer have their own naming system! Instead of using terms like bucks, does, or fawns, they use words similar to cattle. So a male reindeer is called a bull (or sometimes a stag), a female is called a cow, and a baby is called a calf. It’s not just reindeer, though—dolphins also share these terms! And when a bunch of reindeer get together, they’re called a herd.

Reindeer coats have different colors depending on where they live

Selective Focus Photography of Brown Buck on Grass Field
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Reindeer can have different colors depending on where they live. If they hang out mostly in the north—their coats tend to be lighter. But if they live more in the south—their coats might be darker. Also, their summer fur is usually a bit richer in color than their winter fur. It’s like they’ve got their own seasonal wardrobe changes!

Sometimes, it’s tricky to tell if a reindeer is a boy or a girl

brown and white animal on snow covered ground during daytime
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In most deer species, only the boys grow antlers, but reindeer are a bit different. While some female reindeer don’t grow antlers, many of them do! And here’s a cool trick: you can figure out if a reindeer is a boy or a girl by looking at its antlers. That’s because males lose their antlers in spring or winter, while females drop theirs in the summer.

Reindeer can see things we can’t, like UV light

brown deer
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Did you know that reindeer have special eyes? While humans can see up to wavelengths of around 400 nm, reindeer can see even further up to 320 nm. That’s like having a built-in black light! This lets them see things in the bright white of the Arctic that we can’t. Stuff like white fur and pee really stand out for them—making it easier for them to spot things in the snow.

Reindeer hunting has been important for many cultures

herd of brown-and-black animals on brown grass field
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In places like Scandinavia and Canada, hunting reindeer has been an important way for tribes to survive for a really long time—since way back in the Stone Age! In Norway, you can still find ancient reindeer trapping pits and other hunting tools. And guess what? Reindeer meat is still really popular in Scandinavia! You can buy it fresh, canned, or dried in grocery stores.

Warm weather is tough on reindeer

two brown horses on snow covered ground during daytime
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Reindeer are built for cold weather, so when temperatures rise above 10 degrees Celsius, they start feeling really uncomfortable. If it gets up to 15 degrees Celsius, they can even suffer from health problems. That’s why the short summer season is important for them—they use this time to bulk up and store energy for the winter. Any changes to this routine could make it very hard for them to survive the cold months ahead.

Reindeer munch on all sorts of stuff, like plants and fungi

brown deer on road during daytime
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Reindeer mostly munch on lichen—also known as reindeer moss—which grows in really harsh places. It’s packed with lots of good stuff like carbs, vitamins, and protein, which gives the reindeer all the nutrients they need to stay healthy in freezing temperatures. But they’re not picky eaters—they’ll also snack on grass, leaves, willow bark, and sometimes even mushrooms! They chow down about 4-8 kilograms of plants every day.

Reindeer milk is healthy

white and brown deer on green grass field during daytime
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Reindeer milk is one of the richest and most nutritious among land animals. It’s packed with a whopping 22 percent butterfat and 10 percent protein. To put that in perspective, whole cow milk has only 3 to 4 percent fat, and human milk has 3 to 5 percent. But here’s the catch: while reindeer milk is very nutritious—they can only be milked for up to two cups a day.

Some reindeer travel incredible distances

buck eating grass
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While not all reindeer travel super far, some cover unbelievable distances! According to the IUCN, certain groups in North America can journey up to a whopping 3,000 miles every year. That’s farther than any other land mammal documented! And get this: the indigenous Sámi people were the ones who first figured out how to live alongside reindeer. Instead of keeping them locked up on farms, they traveled with the herds.

Baby reindeer can run shortly after birth

brown horse with brown leather saddle on snow covered ground during daytime
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Reindeer don’t have those wobbly “Bambi legs” like other deer. Within just 90 minutes of being born, their calves can sprint as fast as an Olympic runner! And get this: within hours, they’re already keeping up with the rest of the herd. During migration, these little ones can run at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour for around 30 miles a day.