reindeer

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reindeer,

ruminant mammal, genus Rangifer, of the deer family, found in arctic and subarctic regions of Eurasia and North America. It is the only deer in which both sexes have antlers. The Eurasian reindeer, Rangifer tarandus, is a small deer, the male standing about 4 ft (120 cm) high at the shoulder and weighing about 250 lb (113 kg), but it is extremely strong and has great powers of endurance. A reindeer can travel 40 mi (64 km) a day, pulling twice its own weight on a sled. Reindeer have long fur, light brown in summer and whitish in winter, with dense woolly undercoats. The antlers are many pronged, with characteristically curved main stems that sweep back and up from the forehead, then turn forward. The hooves are broad and rounded and in winter become concave, providing a good grip on icy ground. Reindeer are gregarious and migratory; they travel hundreds of miles between their summer and winter grounds in herds of up to 200,000 animals. They feed on a variety of plant matter, particularly grasses in summer and lichen in winter.

Reindeer have been hunted for perhaps 30,000 years. They have been domesticated for many centuries in Lapland, N Siberia, and Mongolia, where they may be used for meat, milk, clothing, and transportation. They are used both to pull sleds and to carry burdens and riders. The Laplanders until recently were completely dependent upon the reindeer for their livelihood and followed the herds on their annual migrations.

Reindeer living in a wild state in Eurasia are probably descended in part from domesticated strains. The wild reindeer of North America, called cariboucaribou,
name in North America for the genus (Rangifer) of deer from which the Old World reindeer was originally domesticated. Caribou are found in arctic and subarctic regions. They are the only deer in which both sexes have antlers.
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, are larger than, but otherwise quite similar to, the Eurasian species. They have never been domesticated. Domesticated reindeer were introduced into Alaska from Siberia in the 1890s and became essential to the economy of the Alaskan Eskimo. Herds were established in Canada in the 1930s.

Reindeer are classified in the phylum ChordataChordata
, phylum of animals having a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development. Most chordates are vertebrates (animals with backbones), but the phylum also includes some small marine invertebrate animals.
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, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Cervidae.

Bibliography

See P. S. Zhigunov, ed., Reindeer Husbandry (tr. 1968); D. F. Olson, Alaska Reindeer Herdsmen (1969).

Reindeer

The natural habitat of the reindeer, or Arctic deer, spans the northernmost reaches of Russia, Siberia, and the Scandinavian countries. Reindeer also roam across Canada, where they are known as caribou. Reindeer differ from other deer not only in their capacity to withstand cold, but also in the fact that both male and female animals grow antlers. Until the twentieth century an indigenous people of northern Scandinavia called the Sami made their living primarily as reindeer herders. These reindeer facts, however, cannot by themselves explain how these unfamiliar animals were drafted into contemporary American Christmas lore.

Santa's Reindeer

The idea that Santa Claus drives a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer is usually credited to one man's flight of fancy. In 1822 Clement C. Moore (1779-1863), a classics professor at General Theological Seminary, wrote a poem for children entitled "A Visit from St. Nicholas." This poem, officially published in 1844, did much to establish the legend and lore of Santa Claus in the United States (see also Elves and North Pole). In it Moore assigns eight flying reindeer the task of pulling Santa's toy-laden sleigh. Moreover, he gave these animals names: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen. Moore encoded his own private joke in these last two names. Donder means "thunder" in Dutch, and Blitzen means "lightning" in German.

How did Moore come up with this unusual reindeer imagery? Certainly St. Nicholas, who might be considered Santa's European predecessor, never resorted to such an unusual mode of conveyance (seealso St. Nicholas's Day). No definitive answer can be given to this question, although researchers have made a number of speculations. One writer points out that the year before Moore wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas," one William Gilley published a poem that depicts "santeclause" driving a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Moore may have read this poem and simply borrowed the idea from this littleknown work. Others have suggested that Moore was inspired by an image from old Norse mythology in which Thor, the thunder god, rides a flying chariot pulled by the magical goats, Gnasher and Cracker. It may also be that Moore paired Santa with the exotic reindeer in order to suggest that he came from a remote land in the far northern reaches of the world.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

In the early twentieth century an ordinary department store worker added a new reindeer to Santa's team. Robert L. May, an employee at Montgomery Ward, wrote a poem entitled "Rudolph the RedNosed Reindeer" in 1939. The store printed the poem and distributed it to children as a sales gimmick.

Written to appeal to children, the poem tells the story of a young reindeer who was rejected by his playmates for being different. The rejected youth, named Rudolph, had a large, shiny, red nose while all the other reindeers had small black noses. One very misty Christmas Eve, however, Santa discovers that the shiny red nose gives off enough light to help him sail safely through the murky night skies. Once the other reindeer realize Rudolph's nose is a valuable asset they befriend the once lonely youngster. Almost two and one-half million copies of the poem were sent home with shoppers in 1939, and more than three and one-half million in 1946, when Montgomery Ward reprinted May's work. The store then released the copyright on the poem back to the author, who published it in a book for children.

In 1949 a friend of May's named Johnny Marks composed a song based on the story told in the poem. In its first year on the market Rudolph fans bought two million copies of the song. Entitled, like the poem, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," it remains a popular, contemporary Christmas tune, which has now been recorded hundreds of times. In the decades following publication of the poem and the song, Rudolph's fame continued to spread. His story has been told in 25 different languages, and has even been made into a network television special. In addition, hundreds of Christmas knickknacks now bear his image.

Further Reading

Del Re, Gerard, and Patricia Del Re. The Christmas Almanack. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979. Restad, Penne. Christmas in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Reindeer

 

(Rangifer tarandus), an artiodactyl of the family Cervidae. Males reach a length of 220 cm, a height at the shoulders of 140 cm, and a weight of 220 kg. The females are smaller than the males. In the winter the fur is thick and long, and there is a highly developed undercoat. In the summer the coat is shorter and thinner. The summer coloration is a uniform reddish or grayish brown; the winter pelage is lighter, sometimes almost white. Both sexes have antlers; however, those of the males are larger. The head is small, and there is a covering of hair over the nose. The ears are short and rounded. The reindeer has spreading hooves: the middle hooves are broad and flat, and the lateral ones are long (when the animal is standing, they touch the ground). Thus, the hooves have a comparatively large area of support, which facilitates locomotion in deep snow and mud.

The reindeer is distributed in Europe, in Asia, and in North America (where it is called the caribou). It inhabits polar islands, tundra, and valley and mountain taiga. The reindeer is a polygamous herd animal. In the winter its diet consists principally of lichens (mainly reindeer moss), twigs, and buds of trees and shrubs; in the summer the animal feeds on berries, mushrooms, and the leaves and shoots of herbaceous plants and shrubs. Reindeer make seasonal migrations, traveling hundreds of kilometers in the winter from the tundra to regions in the forest tundra and northern taiga having an abundance of reindeer moss.

Rutting and mating occurs in September and October. In May or June, after a gestation period of about 225 days, the females bear one or, less frequently, two young. The young nurse for four or five months. Sexual maturity is attained in the second year of life. Shortly after rutting, the males shed their horns; new horns develop from April to August. The females shed their horns after giving birth, and development of new ones is completed in September. Molting occurs once a year.

Reindeer are cautious, sensitive animals, with a well-developed sense of smell. They are able to swim across rivers and lakes. Reindeer are commercially valued for their meat and their hides, which are used in the manufacture of fur garments and suede.

The wild reindeer is the ancestor of the domesticated reindeer, which has great significance in the economy of peoples of the Far North. SeeDEER RAISING.

REFERENCES

See references under CERVIDAE.

IU. P. IAZAN

reindeer

[′rān‚dir]
(vertebrate zoology)
Rangifer tarandus. A migratory ruminant of the deer family (Cervidae) which inhabits the Arctic region and has a circumpolar distribution; characteristically, both sexes have antlers and are brown with yellow-white areas on the neck and chest.

reindeer

a large deer, Rangifer tarandus, having large branched antlers in the male and female and inhabiting the arctic regions of Greenland, Europe, and Asia. It also occurs in North America, where it is known as a caribou