Are All of Santa's Reindeer Female?

Reindeer
Per Breiehagen/Stone/Getty Images

Is it true that male reindeer lose their antlers by December, therefore all of Santa's reindeer, including Rudolph, must be female?

Description: Viral factoid
Circulating since: 2000
Status: Surely false!

Example #1

Email contributed by Teresa R., Dec. 22, 2000:

Subject: Reindeer Facts

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year (the only members of the deer family, Cervidae, to have females do so), male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid December. Female reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring.

Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa's reindeer, every single one of them, from Rudolf to Blitzen ... had to be a female.

We should've known this when they were able to find their way.


Example #2

Email contributed by Ken H., Nov. 27, 2001:

Subject: FW: Santa's reindeer

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-December. Female reindeer, however, retain their antlers until after they give birth in the spring. Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa's reindeer, every single one of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen..... had to be a female. We should have known this.... Only women would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world in one night, and not get lost.


Analysis

Can it possibly be true that none of Santa's reindeer can be males because science says male reindeer shed their antlers before Christmas, and Santa's sleigh-pullers are always depicted with antlers?

Well, look. If we're really going to let science be our guide in this matter, the first thing we'd have to admit is that reindeer can't fly, much less haul a jolly fat elf around in an airborne sleigh. If we start down that slippery slope, there's only one conclusion we can possibly reach: Santa Claus doesn't exist, that he's a myth, a figment of our imaginations, a pretty story we tell children and nothing more.

That way lies madness.

Thankfully, there's a loophole.

It's a fact, reindeer experts say, that both the male and female of the species have antlers. A male's antlers can measure as long as 51 inches; a female's, 20 inches. It's also a fact that while most cows (female reindeer) retain their antlers until spring, most bulls (male reindeer) drop their antlers by early December. Which is worrisome, I know, but the key word is "most."

The experts go on to explain that a few younger bulls, depending upon hereditary and environmental factors, may keep their antlers well into spring — even as late as April.

So it's plausible to suppose that if, for the sake of argument, there were a Santa Claus, and if, for the sake of argument, he did circumnavigate the globe in a reindeer-powered flying sleigh every December 25th, then at least some of those reindeer — including one in particular with a shiny, red nose — could be males. The logic is sound, and so is the science.

Chalk one up for tradition, if just barely.

Reindeer Fast Facts

  • Reindeer and caribou are the same genus and species — the same animals. They're just called different names in different parts of the world.
  • The name "caribou" derived from a Native American word that meant "snow shoveler."
  • Reindeer are found in northernmost North America, northern Europe, and northern Asia.
  • Reindeer live to be 15 to 18 years old.
  • Reindeer are the only species of deer with noses completely covered by hair.
  • No one has ever actually seen a reindeer fly.