Rudolph the blue-eyed reindeer? Unique tissue in eyes explains red nose:study

CONCORD, N.H. -- Everyone knows Rudolph has a red nose but what about his eyes?

Prompted by questions from his 4-year-old daughter, Dartmouth College anthropology professor Nathaniel Dominy recently wrote a scholarly paper on how the unique properties of reindeer eyes might explain the advantage of having a very shiny nose, particularly if it produces red light.

See Full Article

Dominy, who specializes in primate vision, was already familiar with recent research on reindeer eyes when his daughter asked him about Rudolph's nose. Scientists in Great Britain have discovered that unlike most mammals, reindeer can see ultraviolet light, meaning white polar bears or wolves that absorb UV light would stand out more against a snowy background. Reindeer eyes also include reflective tissue that appears to glow when light hits it -- familiar to anyone who's seen a pet or wild animal illuminated by car headlights. But in reindeer, the tissue changes from a golden colour during the summer to a deep blue in winter.

"What happens is that at night, the animals are trying to dilate their pupils to allow as much light into the eye as possible, and because those muscles are so active, it actually blocks little valves in the eye," Dominy explained. "The pressure in the eye builds up and compresses that tissue in the back of the eye, which causes the refractive properties to change."

While that change could boost an animal's ability to spot food in the snow when daylight in the Arctic is dim and purplish, it would be a distinct disadvantage on a foggy Christmas Eve because fog blocks blue light, Dominy said.

Enter the red nose.

Of all the colours, red light travels through fog fastest, making it ideal for guiding Santa's sleigh. But there's also a downside to red noses, he warns.

Other researchers have discovered that reindeer noses have a complex system of tiny blood vessels that prevent them from freezing but also results in a loss of body heat.

"That's bad. You want to retain as much heat as possible. If Rudolph has a very bright, glowing nose, he must have an unusually rich microvascular system, and he's probably losing a ton of heat through his nose," he said. "So Rudolph, more than other reindeer, is probably risking his life by losing so much heat."

His suggestion? Skip the carrots on Christmas Eve and leave Rudolph some cookies instead.

"One way to heat your body is to burn fuel. You do that by burning fat and calories," he said. "Children should be aware of Rudolph's condition and leave high-calorie foods for him."

At the Santa's Village amusement park in northern New Hampshire, Jim Miller said Tuesday that he was unaware reindeer had such unusual eyesight and he chuckled when he heard about Dominy's conclusions. The park has a herd of about three dozen reindeer.

"I think that theory is quite good, and as anyone will notice when they visit Santa's Village, Rudolph is indoors for us because we're sensitive to that issue of him losing heat through his nose," said Miller, who gave his job title as "Santa's Helper."

Dominy's paper, published by Frontiers for Young Minds, adds to Dartmouth's special connection to the classic Christmas story. Rudolph first appeared in a 1939 book written by advertising copywriter and Dartmouth alumnus Robert L. May to drive traffic to Montgomery Ward department stores. May later left Montgomery Ward to essentially manage the reindeer's career, which really took off after his brother-in-law Johnny Marks wrote the song (made famous by Gene Autry in 1949), and the release of a stop-motion animated television special in 1964.


Latest Tech & Science News

  • Beer run! Self-driving truck goes 120-plus miles on delivery

    Tech & Science CTV News
    DENVER -- Anheuser-Busch says it has completed the world's first commercial shipment by self-driving truck, sending a beer-filled tractor-trailer on a journey of more than 120 miles through Colorado. The company says it teamed with self-driving truck maker, Otto, and the state of Colorado for the feat. Source
  • Breaching humpback whales draw crowds in small N.S. town

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The mayor of a small town in southwestern Nova Scotia caused quite a stir when he posted photos of an unusual sighting off the town’s shore – a nearby group of humpback whales. Since Digby Mayor Ben Cleveland shared the photos on Facebook, crowds have flocked to the area in the hopes of a catching a glimpse of the majestic creatures for themselves. Source
  • Researchers link virus to Alaska birds with deformed beaks

    Tech & Science CTV News
    ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Researchers in California and Alaska are hoping they've found what's causing beaks of some bird species to grow twice as fast as normal. The disease is called avian keratin disorder. Affected birds grow beaks that are freakishly long and that sometimes curve up or down. Source
  • Chinese firm issues webcam recall after massive cyberattack

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BEIJING -- A Chinese electronics maker has issued a recall for millions of products sold in the U.S. following a devastating cyberattack, but is pushing back against criticism that its devices played a role in the massive disruption. Source
  • Chinese firm says it did all it could ahead of cyberattack

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BEIJING -- A Chinese electronics maker that has recalled millions of products sold in the U.S. said Tuesday that it did all it could to prevent a massive cyberattack that briefly blocked access to websites including Twitter and Netflix. Source
  • Plunging solar equipment prices fuel trade complaints

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BEIJING - Use of solar power is soaring, but Europe's biggest solar panel manufacturer, SolarWorld, took the surprise step last month of cutting 500 jobs from its workforce of 3,000. The reason? Global sales are on track for a record year but prices are plunging due to a glut of supply. Source
  • Dinosaurs of a feather flocked together, University of Alberta study finds

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Bird-like dinosaurs were social creatures and likely flocked together, contrary to the popular image of dinosaurs as solitary creatures, suggests a study at the University of Alberta. "It changes our perception of the species quite a bit," said Gregory Funston, a PhD student and Vanier scholar at the University of Alberta. Source
  • Blurring effect comes to iPhone 7 Plus with software update

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK - Apple's iPhone 7 Plus is getting a new camera capability -- the blurring of backgrounds to focus attention on people or other objects in the foreground. Apple's "portrait mode" feature was announced in September but was unavailable until the company released its iOS 10.1 software update Monday. Source
  • Feathered dinosaurs may have 'flocked' together like modern birds: study

    Tech & Science CTV News
    EDMONTON -- An ancient bone bed in a remote Mongolian desert presents tantalizing clues that dinosaurs of a feather may have flocked together for the same reasons modern birds do. Research by University of Alberta paleontologist Gregory Funston says the deposit contains fossils from a bird-like dinosaur that were all about the same age. Source
  • 'Intentional, malicious' cyberattack led to Ontario literacy test system crash

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The Ontario agency tasked with administering the first online literacy test to tens of thousands of high school students in the province last week says it was forced to pull the plug by an "intentional, malicious and sustained" cyberattack. Source