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Reindeer

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In most populations both sexes grow antlers and it is the only cervid species in which females grow them as well as males. In the Scandinavian populations, old males’ antlers fall off in December, young males’ fall off in the early spring, and females’ fall off in the summer. The antlers typically have two separate groups of points, a lower and upper. There is considerable sub-specific variation in the size of the antlers (e.g., rather small and spindly in the northernmost subspecies), but, on average, the bull reindeer’s antlers are the second largest of any extant deer, after the moose. In the largest races, the antlers of big males can range up to 100 cm (39 in)in width and 135 cm (53 in) in beam length. They have the largest antlers relative to body size among living deer species.

The color of the fur varies considerably, both individually and depending on season and subspecies. Northern populations, which usually are relatively small, are whiter, while southern populations, which typically are relatively large, are darker. This can be seen well in North America, where the northernmost subspecies, the Peary caribou, is the whitest and smallest subspecies of the continent, while the southernmost subspecies, the Woodland Caribou, is the darkest and largest.] The coat has two layers of fur: a dense woolly undercoat and longer-haired overcoat consisting of hollow, air-filled hairs.

Like moose, reindeer have specialized noses featuring nasal turbinate bones that dramatically increase the surface area within the nostrils. Incoming cold air is warmed by the animal’s body heat before entering the lungs, and water is condensed from the expired air and captured before the deer’s breath is exhaled, used to moisten dry incoming air and possibly absorbed into the blood through the mucous membranes.

Reindeer hooves adapt to the season: in the summer, when the tundra is soft and wet, the footpads become sponge-like and provide extra traction. In the winter, the pads shrink and tighten, exposing the rim of the hoof, which cuts into the ice and crusted snow to keep it from slipping. This also enables them to dig down (an activity known as “cratering”) through the snow to their favorite food, lichen known as reindeer food.

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