The week in silly studies: Why Rudolph’s nose is red

Jordan Chittley
Geekquinox
December 25, 2012

If you had presents waiting for you under the Christmas tree this morning, chances are they were able to get there because Rudolph's red nose guided Santa's sleigh.

But Rudolph wasn't just some sort of freak reindeer or a drunk. A study published in the British Medical Journal discovered reindeer's noses have 25 per cent more blood density than humans. The researchers from the Netherlands and Norway examined the noses of five healthy human volunteers and two reindeer from a Norwegian town close to the North Pole. They found the reindeer had a much richer concentration of red blood vessels and a higher density of mucous glands.

[ Last week's silly study: Watching porn can cause memory loss ]

The animals can regulate their body temperature by pumping more blood to their snouts, which helps in the extreme cold of the northern parts of the planet. The researchers also used thermal imaging to learn when reindeer exercise, their noses can reach 24 degrees Celsius.

"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," reads the study. "Factors essential for flying reindeer pulling Santa Claus's sleigh under extreme temperatures."

[ Related photos: Santa goes skiing ]

So why aren't Dancer or Blitzen's noses also red?

When ABC first asked David Cullen, a research associate professor in the department of surgery at the University of Rochester, he laughed, but then came up with an explanation.

"It could be because Rudolph is at the front of the sleigh in the direct line of earth turbulence so he would need to keep his nose warmer than the rest of the reindeer," said Cullen.

That sort of makes sense, but we still don't get how Santa would have picked Rudolph out in a crowd when they were all sitting around playing reindeer games.

The Rudolph study is the latest in a now 30-year tradition at the Journal to use the Christmas-week issue to publish unusual articles on the brighter side of medicine.

(Getty Images photo of Reindeer in Scotland)

The week in silly studies is a feature that appears each Tuesday.
It is not intended to mock real science.

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