Reindeer and Caribou are the same species. Generally, reindeer refers to the domesticated variety of the animal. That’s why “reindeer” pull Santa’s sleigh, and not caribou. In Siberia, caribou are called “wild” reindeer. The animal’s size and weight varies by gender and age, with adult caribou reaching 3 to 4 feet tall (about 1 meter) and weighing on average up to 375 pounds (170 kg) for males and 200 pounds (90 kg) for females.
These guys are perfect for making it around the world on Christmas Eve. They can run 48 mph (scientist are unclear on how fast they can fly) and wild caribou travel up to 3,000 miles a year.
Santa depends on the ladies, if photographic depictions of reindeer are to be believed. Male reindeer usually shed their antlers at the end of the mating season in early December. Females keep their antlers throughout the winter. Female reindeer also keep more of their body fat during the winter, which is a natural insulator. Male reindeer look pretty rough at the end of mating season, having lost almost all of their body fat.
In comparison to body size, reindeer have the largest and heaviest antlers of all living deer species. Males have antlers that measure up to 51 inches.
Reindeer are built for the North Pole. They are covered in hair from their noses to the bottoms of their feet! They have a special nose that heats the air before it enters their lungs. It also helps them to smell unsually well so they can find food under the ice. They have two coat layers, one which has special gaurd hairs that trap air inside them. These hairs help keep them super toasty.
Santa’s Reindeer actually do “click.” When reindeer walk, their feet make a loud clicking noise due to a tendon slipping over the foot bone.
I’ve saved this animal for Halloween. There are vampires in real life…if you’re talking about bats that is. The vampire bat really does feast on blood, but mostly blood of hoofstock. It’s the only known mammal to feed entirely on blood.
Vampire bats are found from northern Mexico southward to Chile and central Argentina and Uruguay as well as the island of Trinidad. They actually have 20 teeth, but their front incisors are the only useful ones. Their molars are pretty useless, as blood doesn’t need to be chewed. They don’t suck blood like Dracula. They use their incisors to quickly slice their prey and then lap up their blood. They love to hunt in the deepest of darkness and will be less active when the moon is bright.
These guys are small. The common vampire bat weighs less than two ounces and is only about four inches long. They are very agile and some of the only bats that are able to walk, run, hop and even jump quickly on the ground. Their prey is a lot larger than they are. They have to be quick to get out of the way if a sleeping animal wakes up. Young bats have a high mortality rate (over 50%), partly because of being killed by large prey.
Vampire bats have many adaptations for their unique food source. They have heat-sensitive nose pits, which can detect blood flowing beneath their prey’s fur. Their saliva contains an anti-coagulant, called draculin, which helps blood to flow freely for their entire meal. Their saliva, however, does not contain an anesthetic, contrary to popular belief. It was originally believed they did have anesthetic, but later studies have not found it. Vampire bats lick their prey before biting to soften the fur and skin, not to anesthetize them. They cut quickly and cleanly, so it doesn’t inflict much pain on their prey.
The vampire bat’s tongue has two special grooves, one on top for supplying a constant source of anti-coagulant saliva, and one on the underside to funnel the blood up. They also have special hairs on their chin that work like antenna, sensing movement of the prey so they can get away quickly if it wakes up. They have excellent memories and can remember routes and locations of herds so they can hunt the same animals again.
They may sound gross, but vampire bats are one of the most loving mammals. Vampire bats can survive for a few days without food, but they are so small that they do need to eat pretty frequently. Their social groups consists of about 20 individuals (mostly female). The young females tend to stay with the family group, so a lot of the groups are related. Some females have been studied roosting together for 12 years. These guys are pretty tightly bonded. If a member of the group hasn’t had a meal for the night, sometimes another bat will feed it. They can regurgitate blood for a friend (normally only closely related bats will do this). The favor may be repaid later (Wilkinson). This is called “reciprocal altruism,” and is very rare in mammals. Vampire bats will also adopt young of their group if something happens to the parents.
How does that change your opinion of these “blood suckers?” Vampire bats have been known to bite humans, but normally only if they’re desperate for a meal. They are a real problem for livestock in their native countries.
This month, I want to feature some lucky animals for Saint Patrick’s Day. There are dozens of animals that are considered “lucky” by various cultures around the world. Here are just a few. Feel free to share your own too.
- Bats are good luck in China. The word for bat in China is “fu” which is a homonym of good luck. The symbolize long, happy lives.
- Bears were an important part in Native American culture as various symbols of strength, hard work and great love. Many tribes considered the “Great Spirit” to often take on the form of a bear. It would lead hunters on great chases and could die only to be reborn in the spring. Seeing a bear was considered lucky.
- The Egyptians believed that the scarab beetle, Khepri, was symbolic of Ra, the god of the rising sun. Just as the beetle rolled a ball of dung across the earth, Ra was said to roll the sun across the sky. Amulets were made to resemble scarab beetles. These stones were worn for good luck.
- Frogs brought the Romans good luck. They also bring fetility. In Australia, the native Aborigines believed that frogs brought the thunder and rain, to help the plants to grow. They are also said to bring health and speed up the recovery from disease.
- Tigers are considered lucky in Chinese astrology. The Tiger is also considered a protector against certain evils, including theft and fire.
- Elephants are considered good luck when their trunks are up (in Thailand, elephants are good luck regardless of their trunk placement).
- Rabbits feet are carried as an amulet to bring good luck in a number of places around the world including Europe, China, Africa and North and South America. It is likely that this belief has existed in Europe since 600 BC amongst Celtic people. In some cultures, the donor rabbit must possess certain attributes, or have been killed in a particular place, by a particular method or by a person possessing particular attributes (e.g. by a cross-eyed man).
It’s almost Super Bowl Sunday. This year, the match up is between a corvid and an old prospector. I’m not necessarily rooting for Baltimore, 49ers fans. It’s just hard to feature a 49er as an animal. So, this month we’ll feature the ravens.
There are almost a dozen species of raven, but generally the term raven refers to Corvus corax, the common raven. They are the most widely distributed corvid and are found all over the Northern Hemisphere. There are at least eight subspecies of common raven.
Do they make a good mascot for a football team? Well, to me the most impressive facts about ravens deal with their intelligence.
Ravens display high learning ability and use of logic for solving problems. They are considered the smartest of all birds, even bypassing chimpanzees in some intelligence tests. They sometimes even outsmart and prank humans. In one experiment, a raven had to reach a piece of meat dangling from strings bound to perches. To get to the food, the raven had to follow a series of actions: pull up a string, then stretch, hold a loop of it on the perch with a claw, then pull up another string and hold that loop. The raven took six tries to get the meat. Even after 30 trials, crows did not succeed.
Ravens are playful, in part because they are so smart. They love to pull pranks. Ravens have been observed waiting for unsuspecting humans to walk under them so they could push snow on the humans. Ravens have also been observed pranking wolves by sneaking up to a sleeping wolf and pinching its tail. When the wolf tried to bite the raven, the bird jumped away. They also make their own toys and tools.
Does intelligence count more in football than strength? Ravens aren’t very strong. They are smart enough to let others do the grunt work for them. Their beaks aren’t strong enough to open the carcasses of the carrion they enjoy, so they make calls that attract larger animals, like wolves, to the kill. The wolves break the carcass open for them. They also watch where other animals, even other ravens, bury their food. They can remember the locations (caches) and will come back later to steal it. They will also steal shiny, sparkly objects from humans and cache them for later.
Surely those brains have got to count for something! With all of their love for shiny objects, these guys would probably, at the least, try to steal Sourdough Sam’s gold. It’d be up to him to determine whether or not they were successful.
Photo by T.Müller, Creative Commons