“Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, had a very shiny nose, and if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.” It’s one of the most beloved Christmas jingles, but there may be science behind this tune, too.
It turns out that the story involving Rudolph’s nose (and how he managed to save Christmas) actually has some truth to it, as professor of anthropology and evolutionary biology at Dartmouth College, Nathaniel Dominy, revealed in his paper that was published in the Frontiers for Young Minds.
“New findings about the color vision of reindeer could hold important clues about the value of a luminescent nose,” the paper states. This comes after researchers examined the unique vision of Arctic reindeer (also known as the Rangifer tarandus) and determined that, unlike most mammals, they can see ultraviolet light.
In addition to Arctic reindeer’s ability to see UV light, their eyes also have a “mirrorlike reflective tissue” which causes eye shine and enables them to see in the dark. But the truly remarkable thing about reindeer’s eye tissue is that it “changes from a rich golden color during the summer to a deep blue color during the winter,” which would be a disadvantage in foggy conditions.
But what does this have to do with the colour of Rudolph’s nose?
The colour red is reportedly the most visible through fog, while “fog blocks blue light,” which would make it much harder for the reindeer to see — let alone fly Santa halfway across the world. Which, according to Dominy, is why it makes sense that a reindeer would have a red nose, which would serve as some kind of fog light.
However, he warns that there could also be disadvantages to having a shiny nose, as the “noses of reindeer have a complex system of many tiny blood vessels and are therefore quite warm, a trait that not only prevents reindeer’s noses from freezing, but also causes heat from a reindeer’s body to be lost to the surrounding air. If too much heat is lost from his glowing nose, Rudolph could risk hypothermia (a dangerously low body temperature) under extremely cold weather conditions.”
So, if you want to prevent Rudolph from freezing when he flies around the globe, then make sure you leave him a lot of high-calorie snacks!