The scientific benefits of Rudolph's red nose

The scientific benefits of Rudolph's red nose
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is by the Robert L. May, Dartmouth class of 1926. Credit: Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth.

We're all familiar with the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May (a class of 1926 Dartmouth alumnus) but scientifically speaking, what are the optical benefits of a shiny red nose on a foggy Christmas Eve?

In a paper just published by Frontiers for Young Minds, Nathaniel J. Dominy, Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth, explores this very question. By citing research by other scientists on the unique eyes and vision of Arctic reindeer, Dominy explains why Rudolph is able to lead Santa and his team of eight tiny reindeer through the thick Arctic fog.

Dominy points out that Arctic reindeer (scientific name Rangifer tarandus tarandus) can see ultraviolet light, which is invisible to humans and most mammals—a trait that comes especially handy in mid-winter when the sun is low on the horizon and the high scattered light from the atmosphere is mainly blueish and ultraviolet. In addition, the reflective tissue (tapetum lucidum) in reindeer eyes changes from a rich golden color during the summer months to a deep blue color during the winter months. This tissue (which causes eye shine at night) helps nocturnal animals see in the dark, and a blue one is expected to improve their ability to see blue light. Yet, fog extinguishes blue light more readily than red light, which may make it especially difficult for Santa's reindeer to see blue effectively, never mind fly.

This is where Rudolph's luminescent (glowing) comes into play, as it serves as an excellent fog light for navigating his fellow . Given that the redness of Rudolph's nose is similar to red holly berries, Dominy was able to estimate the color of light emitted from Rudolph's nose by measuring the color of holly berries. He found that Rudolph's nose is probably the maximum level of redness that mammals are able to see, which may explain why Rudolph's nose is effective as a fog .

The scientific benefits of Rudolph's red nose
A paper mache of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which once graced the Chicago lawn of his creator, Robert L. May, Dartmouth class of 1926. Credit: Eli Burakian, class of 2000, Dartmouth College.

According to Dominy, Rudolph's nose also poses a problem. Reindeer noses are extremely vascular, which causes them to lose body heat through their noses. A glowing nose could cause excessive heat loss for Rudolph, putting him at risk of hypothermia. "It is therefore imperative for children to provide high-calorie foods to help Rudolph replenish his energetic reserves on Christmas Eve," says Dominy. As a result of the unique properties of Rudolph, it is no wonder that with a nose so bright, he is able to effectively guide Santa's sleigh.

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Video: Rudolph's glowing nose

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Citation: The scientific benefits of Rudolph's red nose (2015, December 21) retrieved 21 August 2019 from
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Dec 21, 2015
Where's the citation? FYI, "Biorhinoluminescence in Rangifer Tarandus: Environmental Factors Favor Longer Wavelengths".

Dec 21, 2015
When a long string of paired teams (such as pulling Santa's sleigh) travel they will pull to one side or the other. To keep them going in straight line, put a light or Rudolph's in a lead position, say centered, then with the whip in a midline position all the driver has to do is fix his head in the same place and keep Rudolph's nose centered on the whip stalk. This technique works on the prairie on in foggy sky.

Dec 22, 2015
Everyone please click "report" on jim_xanaras's post. His anti Jew speech is unacceptable and borders on hate speech.
I doubt he truly feels that way about jews. He's just a kid getting a kick out of trolling websites with inflammatory posts I'll bet.

Dec 22, 2015
All I see are accurate facts. He isn't advocating anything. And they're accurate facts, about the post. Yours, however, has nothing to do with the post, is rabble rousing and harassing. What? Not so good at swallowing inconvenient truths when it doesn't happen to coincide with your a priori biases?

Sugar Daddy agrees and will be in soon to put you in your place.

Dec 22, 2015
I still prefer the explanation from Family Guy:
Doctor: Well Rudolph, we finally figured out what makes your nose red.
Rudolph: Is it pixie dust or leprechaun tails?
Doctor: No, it's a tumor.
Rudolph: You mean like a magical Christmas tumor?
Doctor: No, a malignant tumor, the base which is lodged deep within your brain.
Rudolph: Oh...Like a happy, special...
Doctor: You're going to die

Dec 22, 2015
"foggy Christmas Eve"

What's a world wide "fog"? Is this some denier dystopian future where there's world wide smog?

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