The Science of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

For this week’s blog I am digging out one of my favorite articles (The Scientific Benefits of Rudolph’s Nose) to show that there can be cool science in holiday stories too!

The scientists studied some unique features of the eyes and vision of Arctic reindeer (scientific name Rangifer tarandus tarandus). In the winter, there is this reflective tissue (called tapetum lucidum) in reindeer eyes that changes from a gold color to a blue color. This tissue is what makes the reindeer’s eyes appear to shine and helps the animal see in the dark. A reindeer’s vision is special in that they can see ultraviolet light which most mammals — like humans — can’t see. This means that reindeer are really good at seeing when the sun is low on the horizon and the scattered light in the sky is mostly blue and ultraviolet.

There is also a scientific explanation for Rudolph’s red nose. Reindeer have a large concentration of blood vessels in their nose which make it appear red. Researchers have estimated that the color of Rudolph’s nose is the maximum level of redness that mammals can see, making it an effective beacon through fog.

These are just little tidbits that you can add to your story while you dance on the line between fact and fantasy.

I could see this information being used by a really smart kid who is ready to go up against anyone to prove that Santa is real.


Maybe mom and dad use this info to help a child teetering on the line of believing or not believing in Santa to help the child have one more magical holiday.


What if the story was about a herd of real reindeer and one of them has a nose that is particularly red sparking speculation that he is the real Rudolph?


What about a veterinarian with a bah-humbug attitude is called in for an emergency to help a reindeer with a bright red nose caught in a trap?

Who wants to talk more about how you can use this idea in your current or next story?

[Credit: flickr/Preus museum]
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