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Weatherwatch: reindeer adapted to snow but not climate change

Animal thrives in cold, snowy conditions, but freeze-thaw pattern threatens grazing

Reindeer pull tourists in the Murmansk region of Russia. Photograph: Alex Flower/Getty Images

The reindeer is the emblematic Christmas animal and, while not exactly magical, it is among the best adapted to snowy conditions.

For a start, a reindeer’s feet have four toes with dewclaws that spread out to distribute its weight like snowshoes, and are equipped with sharp hooves for digging in snow.

A reindeer’s nose warms the air on its way to the lungs, cooling it again before it is exhaled. As well as retaining heat, this helps prevent water from being lost as vapour. This is why reindeer breath does not steam like human and horse breath.

A reindeer’s thick double-layered coat is so efficient that it is more likely to overheat than get too cold, especially when running. When this happens, reindeer pant like dogs to cool down, bypassing the nasal heat exchanger. [continue]