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Taken from http://news.nationalgeographic.com

A story circulating on the Internet this holiday season claims that the famous Rudolph may have been a girl.

As the much-emailed account goes, male reindeer generally shed their antlers long before December 25, whereas the females retain theirs until at least January. The reindeer are always depicted as having antlers, so Santa's outriders must all be females.

But is there a scientific basis to this theory?

Reindeer, both wild and semi-domesticated, are the only members of the deer family in which both sexes grow antlers. The question is when do they shed them?

"The largest bulls shed their antlers first, almost immediately after the rutting season ends in late October," said Pat Valkenburg, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "The sparring between bulls during rutting season can be extremely violent. In herds with a lot of mature bulls, injuries from rutting can be the leading cause of death."

By the end of the rutting season, the bulls not only don't have antlers, they're so played out that the likelihood that they could haul the fat man and tons of toys around the world in one night is slim.

Young bulls and cows can keep their antlers sometimes through April, depending on the nutritional conditions, amount of daylight, and retention of testosterone.

The Sami people of Lapland, whose livelihood depends on their reindeer herds, frequently neuter their working reindeer, which would interrupt the cycle that causes males to shed their antlers.

The evidence therefore leads to the conclusion that Santa's reindeer are either females, young bulls, or neutered.

Then there's the question of what made Rudolph's nose red—other than the whim of a copywriter.

In his book The Physics of Christmas, Roger Highfield, science editor for the London-based Daily Telegraph, cites the research of Odd Halvorsen of the University of Oslo. Halvorsen pointed out in the journal Parasitology Today, that reindeer noses provide a welcoming environment for bugs, and suggested that the "celebrated discoloration" of Rudolph's nose is probably due to parasites.

Valkenburg offers an alternative conclusion.

"Rudolph is a mythical character," he laughed. "He can be anything he wants to be."
 
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