Male reindeer drop their antlers at the end of the Winter after the rut and re-grow them again in January or February. Females keep their antlers until March or April then loose them and immediately start growing new ones. Calves and castrated males loose their antlers around the same time as females.
This is one of our senior bulls in the process of shedding his velvet in August.
A polished set of antlers in the autumn
Antlers grow from permanent bones on the reindeer's skull called pedicles. When growing, antlers are a soft, rubbery, living mass of blood and marrow covered with velvet skin. Nerves grow at the same rate as the antler, which can feel quite warm during the growing process due to the blood circulating so close to the surface. Reindeer are very sensitive about anything touching their antlers whilst they are in velvet. Antlers grow from the tip unlike horns which grow from the base.
At the end of August, blood stops flowing through the antler and the bone begins to harden. The reindeer will then begin vigourously rubbing the velvet off, with rutting bulls it can take only 24 hours before the velvet is totally stripped. Reindeer cows keep their antlers longer than bulls in order for them to become dominant over the winter period, thus ensuring that they and their calves get the best food through the winter.
There are 3 parts to reindeers' antlers (rack). The long main beam curves gently backwards, there are two branches pointing forwards, the smaller brow tine and the larger shovel. Antler size is determined by a combination of genetics, nutrition and age of the animal. Reindeer usually grow their largest racks at the age of 5-6 years old with the bulls having largest. Reindeer are unusual, in that they are the only species of deer where both the male and female grow antlers.
Reindeer are members of the family cervidae, genus Rangifer and species tarandus.
Reindeer bulls are 3-4 ft high at the shoulder and can weigh up to 400 lbs. The cows are slightly smaller.
Reindeer have thick winter coats of hollow hairs that provide good insulation and also mean that they are good swimmers, as they have natural boyancy. They have hair covering their nose which keeps them from getting frostbite in the snow. They have broad hooves with a large dewclaw that sinks into the snow to aid traction and they have a tendon that rubs over a bone in the ankle cuasing a clicking sound when they walk. This aids them in keeping track of each other in snow blizzards. The clicking does not develop until the reindeer is about 12 months old.
Reindeer have the ability to lower the temperature in their legs to just above freezing in extremely cold weather to avoid body heat loss from their extremities. They use their large hooves to dig through snow for food.
Reindeer are domestic animals - it is believed that no truely wild reindeer exist today and that all "wild" roaming reindeer have descended from escaped domestic stock. Even reindeer in the Tundra that appear to be running wild are all owned by the Saami herdsman and are marked by the owner and are rounded up periodically for culling, treatment etc.
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