SciSun: Infrequent Fliers

During the Holidays there’s all sorts of traveling to visit family, go on vacations, and generally take some time off. People fly in airplanes, birds fly with wings, and reindeer fly by magic. But why do reindeer only fly at Christmas? I’ve never seen a reindeer flying in the middle of summer, have you? For that matter, what is a reindeer and where are they the rest of the year?

Everyone knows reindeer live in the North. To be precise, Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) live in the Arctic and SubArtic, regions that are far, far North beyond most cities and in fact in places where there are very few people at all. They are related to White Tail Deer – the kind of deer you might see in your local parks and open spaces – and to other similar ‘deer like’ animals such as Elk, Red Deer, and Moose. (Yes, Moose. But that’s a different story). While we all know Reindeer pull Santa’s sled on Christmas, in other parts of their home the local people use reindeer to pull a type of sled called a pulk, loaded with supplies. So Santa’s deer have it pretty easy, only working one day a year.

But back to the flying. You must understand that not ALL Reindeer can fly; but on the other hand all Reindeer could fly if they had the training and special North Pole magic. Some people say the Reindeer are fed special food that allows them to fly just on Christmas Eve. Others say the Reindeer are themselves magic, and they can fly any time they want. It’s also a rumor that the Reindeer don’t have any special powers, they just work hard all year to be in shape to make the Christmas journey. The fact is, only Santa and the elves really know how Reindeer fly. We’ve tried to get reindeer to fly here at ECOVIA, and only ended up with more questions and some unhappy reindeer.

Young Renideer

My nose is NOT red. I prefer 'chestnut rust'

And get this! Scientists have just found that the EYES of reindeer change from summer to winter! The scientists say it’s because the reindeer have to adjust between long periods of light and darkness that’s usual in the Arctic region. But it’s obvious their eyes change because they need to get ready for flying, just like old-time pilots wore goggles when they flew their airplanes.

There are lots of great places to learn more about Reindeer. Here are a few to get you started:

And don’t forget to check out your local library!

Posted December 24, 2010 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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