Wyoming is home to a lot of great wildlife, but the reindeer that power Santa's sleigh aren't among them.

Reindeer are the same as caribou -- Rangifer tarandus to get technical about it -- and they  are members of the deer family, according to the Center for Veterinary Medicine in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

They're called reindeer in Europe, and in North Amerrica they're called reindeer if they're domesticated and caribou if they are wild.

So here are a few more reindeer facts from the Center for Veterinary Medicine:

  • Unlike most deer species, both male and female reindeer grow antlers, and when compared to their body size are the heaviest antlers in the deer family.
  • A male reindeer's antlers can grow up to 51 inches long, while a female's can grow up to 20 inches.
  • The male's antlers fall off in November and begin to regrow even larger in February. The female's antlers stay on until their calves are born in May when they begin to regrow again. (More on this later regarding the sleigh power train.)
  • Reindeer are covered in hair from their noses to their hooves. Hairy hooves may look strange, but they enable reindeer to get a good grip on snow -- or sharply pitched roofs.
  • They are the only species of deer with hair covering their noses, quite helpful in warming inhaled air. They also have a great sense of smell.
  • Reindeer eat mosses, herbs, ferns, grasses, and shoots and leaves of shrubs and trees, especially willow and birch.
  • They travel, feed and rest together in herds from 100 to several hundred. Sometimes in the spring they form herds of 50,000 to 500,000.
  • Reindeer are the only deer species to be domesticated as beasts of burden -- Wyoming mule deer wouldn't put up with that for a minute -- and as food.

As far as Santa's Rangifer tarandus entourage goes, reindeer weren't mentioned as part of his story until 1821 when an anonymous poet wrote: "Old Santeclaus with much delight/His reindeer drives this frosty night."

Two years later, the semi-weekly Troy Sentinel newspaper in upstate New York published the poem, "Twas the Night Before Christmas" that specified eight reindeer with their names.

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More than a century later, Montgomery Ward department store chain employee Robert May wrote about Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, dubbing it "the most famous reindeer of all." The story appeared in a coloring book for children in 1939.

May chose the name Rudolph instead of two other possible names -- Rollo and Reginald -- for which we all should be grateful.

May's brother-in-law Johnny Marks turned the story into a song. "Singing cowboy" Gene Autrey recorded it, and it remains one of the best-selling Christmas songs.

While Wyoming is reindeerless, it has other deer species including white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose, according to Scott Edberg, deputy chief of the wildlife division of the Game and Fish Department.

Our deer, Edberg wrote, "have a more down-to-earth magic" by bringing an appreciation of wild things and wild places.


So we go back to Rudolf and the other eight famous reindeer.

Recall that male reindeer lose their antlers in November and female reindeer lose their antlers in spring?

The reindeer pulling sleigh in late December all had antlers.

Therefore, they're all females.

So when you set out milk and cookies for Santa, set out some birch and willow shoots and leaves for the ladies doing the heavy lifting.

Merry Christmas.

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