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We Need to Talk About Rudolph: Sex, Drugs, and Aerodynamic Reindeer


Rudolph and Hermey the elf.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia/Creative Commons


It is coming up to Santa’s bustling time. Last notation preparations are being made, lists are being checked and double checked, routes are being analysed and optimised. Elves will be operative overtime to put the finishing touches to their orders. But greatfully gangling a suspicion for Rudolph and the group of reindeer called on to drag tons of presents over thousands of miles in the many abominable weather.

It’s misfortune for Rudolph, of course. The world’s many eminent reindeer has to put up with all the name-calling and delight from associate reindeer. Not only that, but ever given he first came to inflection in a 1939 story created by Robert May, followed by genuine celebrity a decade after with Gene Autry’s hit song Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, we’ve been getting Rudolph totally wrong.

For a start, Rudolph and group are substantially female. All the images I’ve seen of Rudolph clearly show a reindeer proudly sporting antlers. Reindeer are the only deer where both sexes grow antlers, but the males remove them around Christmas time and regrow them in the open prepared for the mating season. The only way a male reindeer can hang on to his pretentious headgear by the gratifying deteriorate is to be castrated. Losing the source of the sex hormones upsets the antler cycle – and substantially the reindeer too.

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We need to speak about that nose as well. The red feverishness from Rudolph’s many famous charge is substantially caused by something some-more critical than a bad cold. Reindeer noses are a shining product of evolutionary instrumentation to a oppressive environment. The nasal passages enclose many elaborate folds covered in blood vessels. When a reindeer breathes in, the abounding blood vessels gentle up the air gripping the inside of the reindeer good and gentle even when the air around it is sub-zero. On the way out, the same blood vessels cold the air, minimising feverishness detriment and maintaining as much water effluvium as possible.

The hapless downside of such an perplexing nasal arrangement is that it is a very gentle mark for parasites to lurk. There are 20 parasites singular to mainland reindeer, and many others that are just as happy in reindeer or other ruminants. That red nose is therefore substantially due to parasitic infection and increasing blood upsurge to the area where the physique is doing its best to fight off invaders.

All-in-all, Rudolph must be feeling awful as she slogs by a misty Christmas Eve boring a heavily loaded sleigh behind her. Rudolph and her reindeer companions do have one very enviable trait though: they can fly.

At first peek reindeer would not seem to be physiologically matched to flight. But it’s probable reindeer have left one better than aerodynamics – antlerdynamics. It is probable that those antlers create distortions in the air currents as they race by the sky that could give them some lift. However, other deer don’t seem to turn airborne, no matter how big their antlers or how quick they run. There must be some-more to it.

One speculation of the means of drifting reindeer also explains Santa’s dress sense. It all comes down to one mushroom: Amanita muscaria, or fly agaric. Father Christmas’s colour scheme may be in honour of the white-speckled, red-capped fungus so beloved of angel tales. The fungus is closely associated to several rarely poisonous class such as the death top (Amanita phalloides) and destroying angel (Amanita virosa). Freshly picked fly agaric contains ibotenic acid, which translates to muscimol when the fungus is dried. Muscimol is a absolute hallucinogen, 10 times some-more absolute than ibotenic acid.

Muscimol interacts with receptors in the brain ensuing in hallucinations; unfeeling objects seem alive, objects crush in size, time and space turn distorted. It is substantially eating the fly agaric fungus that made Alice grow otherwise high and brief when she visited Wonderland. Other effects of the fungus are reduction appealing and embody anxiety, nausea, vomiting, twitching, convulsions and coma.

Fly agaric was the recreational drug of choice in several tools of Europe before vodka was introduced. Shamans of the tribes that flock reindeer in Siberia and Lapland would collect the mushrooms and delicately ready them to optimise the mind-enhancing properties – and minimise the other dangerous toxins within the fungus (of which there are several). The volume of muscimol also varies enormously from fungus to mushroom, so trying this yourself is a unsure business and really not advisable.

The shamans had the advantage of generations of unsentimental believe and years of experience. They believed they could use the mushrooms to transport to the suggestion area in hunt of answers to internal problems, such as a remarkable conflict of illness. The outcome of the muscimol gave the sense of drifting out by the funnel of the shaman’s headquarters and travelling to the suggestion universe where they could find advice.

Muscimol passes by the physique comparatively unvaried which means that the shaman’s urine also had manly hallucinogenic properties. The effects of the fungus can still be felt even if the drug has upheld by 5 or 6 people and this is substantially the origin of the word “getting pissed”.

Reindeer happening on these rags of yellow sleet left by the shaman competence good frolic, caper and skip around in the snow, off their antlers on mind-altering drugs. Perhaps, even, as they jumped up in the air, the object in the northern regions would be low in the sky, silhouetting them in a evil drifting poise …

So Rudolph may be under the influence, and given her operative conditions, I’m not certain we censure her. Then again, maybe scholarship doesn’t have the answer. Maybe Santa and his reindeer really do fly.

Dr Kathryn Harkup is a chemist and scholarship communicator. Her book, A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie, is published by Bloomsbury.



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