Rudolph the red nosed reindeer really did have a red nose, and researchers have uncovered why it was red. Rudolph’s nose led Santa’s sleigh because of a dense network of blood vessels in his nose.
Scientists from the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands and the University of Rochester in New York have found that reindeer have 25 percent more capillaries carrying red blood than humans do. Scientists examined adult reindeer’s nasal microcirculation and discovered differences and similarities between reindeer and human noses.
Dr. John Cullen of the University of Rochester told Med Page Today, “In colder climates and also when they are higher up in the atmosphere pulling Santa’s sleigh, the increase in blood flow in the nose will help keep the [nose's] surface warm.”
In order to carry out the experiments, researchers used hand held video microscopes to compare the blood vessels of two reindeer and six humans. After running on a treadmill, the reindeer’s nose showed red on a thermographic image. They also found gland-like structures in the nasal mucous membrane in both humans and reindeer. Scientists think the gland-like structures may secret mucous in humans. They also believe that, since reindeer are unable to sweat, the collection of blood vessels help regulate their body temperature.
Live Science reports:
“These results highlight the intrinsic physiological properties of Rudolph’s legendary luminous red nose, which help to protect it from freezing during sleigh rides and to regulate the temperature of the reindeer’s brain, factors essential for flying reindeer pulling Santa Claus’ sleigh under extreme temperatures.”