Are Reindeer Real? (And Answers to Other Myths)

Santa waving at the camera with a reindeer

As your reigning reindeer experts, we’re here to dispel a few myths about our furry friends! From antlers to eating habits, we have the inside scoop on all things reindeer.

Myth #1: Reindeer aren’t real.

We’re not quite sure how this myth got started, considering that we’ve seen these animals with our own two eyes, but we’re here to debunk it! Perhaps it’s because reindeer are most well-known for being part of Santa’s team, or maybe it’s due to the fact that like Yeti, they also reside only in cold climates. But we want to say it loud and clear: reindeer are definitely real!

As members of the same species as caribou, Rangifer tarandus, reindeer typically make their home in northern biomes such as the boreal forest (also known as the taiga) and the frozen tundra. Subzero temperatures are no match for a reindeer’s thick winter coat, which might be why you haven’t seen them in person (unless you yourself are a fan of the cold). While snowy landscapes and icy trees might make you reach for your blanket and a mug of hot cocoa, reindeer have adapted to the weather and actually enjoy it!

If you still aren’t sure that reindeer are real, don’t just take our word for it! Join us for a Reindeer Walk, and see them for yourself.

Myth #2: Reindeer are wild animals.

One of the common misconceptions people have about our reindeer is that we took them from the wild and put them in cages. However, reindeer are actually domesticated animals like dogs and cats. According to PolarTREC, this is what separates them from their caribou counterparts, since reindeer “were domesticated in northern Eurasia about 2000 years ago” while caribou “have never been domesticated.”

Humans and reindeer have lived alongside each other for thousands of years, and many of our reindeer were born and have lived their whole lives at Running Reindeer Ranch. They spend their days enjoying the cool Alaskan climate and wandering among the trees, as well as occasionally sporting reins to trot alongside guests on a Reindeer Walk. We don’t keep them in cages all day, and they’re definitely not just for tourists — they’re part of our family! Just as we spoil our husky Garnet with treats, so too do we treat our reindeer like they’re our children.

Myth #3: Female reindeer don’t have antlers.

While it’s usually easy to tell a bull from a cow, reindeer don’t make it so easy. Both male and female reindeer grow antlers, albeit for different purposes. The San Diego Zoo notes that while both use their antlers as a way to defend themselves, “males use their impressive antlers (which can weigh up to 33 pounds or 15 kilograms!) to woo the females”, and females use theirs to protect their winter food source after the bulls lose their antlers. This means that unlike Bambi and Faline, spotting the differences between a male and a female reindeer requires a closer look at their headgear. Calves also start growing antlers soon after they are born.

The main difference between the two sets of antlers, besides being larger in males than in females, is the time of year that they fall off. Reindeers regrow their antlers each year, which is why they’re sometimes seen with a furry covering and sometimes bare. However, Discover Wildlife notes that while male reindeer lose their antlers in autumn, pregnant “[f]emales retain their antlers until spring, because access to food is critical during their winter pregnancy.” Since spring calving is a yearly occasion, this means that like males, females have to regrow their entire set of antlers every year. Pretty cool, huh?

Myth #4: Reindeer eat carrots.

You may not believe it, but that bright orange carrot you leave Rudolph every Christmas Eve isn’t his favorite treat. In an article for The Independent, Phil Endsor of The Reindeer Whisperer debunked this myth, noting that “reindeer struggle to digest carrots because they don’t have any incisor teeth on their upper jaw.” While the diet of Santa’s reindeer has probably adapted over the years to include this vegetable, regular reindeer fail to appreciate it. If you really want to get yourself added to the nice list, leave behind a plate of lichen next Christmas. It’s tasty fungus that our herd just can’t get enough of!

Myth #5: Reindeer can fly.

We’re only going to debunk half of this myth since we can’t speak for Santa’s reindeer. They’ve been flying around the globe for centuries, and we have no evidence to say otherwise! However, our own reindeer typically keep four hooves firmly on the ground. While they have been known to travel further than any other land animal, they probably can’t fly you to Anchorage and back.

There’s a lot more reindeer myths that we’d love to share with you! Come visit us at our ranch, and discover even more reasons to love reindeer.

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