Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Scientific Study Reveals Cause of His Shiny Nose

| by Denise A Justin

Rudolph, the lead reindeer on Santa’s sleigh-pulling team and the one out front in the freezing cold on Christmas Eve, actually does have a shiny nose—for a good reason!  Scientists have finally figured out that the mystery behind Rudolph’s glowing red nose is an actual, definable condition—but not a bad one.

In simple terms, Rudolph's nose glows bright red because Nature provides a very rich supply of red blood cells to help protect it from freezing and to regulate brain temperature, according to the results of a study published in the British Medical Journal.

In science-speak, "The microcirculation of the nasal mucosa in reindeer is richly vascularised and 25 percent denser than that in humans.”  This superior “nasal microcirculation” is actually a concentration of tiny blood cells in the nose, called micro-vessels, and they are vital in delivering oxygen, controlling inflammation and regulating temperature, explains Professor Can Ince. 

Dutch and Norwegian researchers are familiar with the special needs of flying reindeer as they take to the sky near the North Pole, so they set out to test why Rudolph’s famous red nose sometimes appeared to be shiny and how a Reindeer’s nasal microcirculation compares to what happens to human noses in freezing weather.

“Using a hand-held video microscope, they first assessed the noses of five healthy human volunteers and found a circulating blood vessel density of 15 mm/mm2. When the technique was applied to two reindeer noses, the researchers found a 25 per cent higher density of blood vessels, carrying a super-rich concentration of red blood cells,” states

Infrared thermal images showed that reindeer do indeed have red noses, according to the study. They also found a high density of mucous glands scattered throughout reindeer noses, which they say helps 'maintain an optimal nasal climate during changing weather conditions and extremes of temperature, as well as being responsible for fluid transport and acting as a barrier.'  

Loosely translated, that could mean that Rudolph’s nose may be covered with a special natural protective fluid that appears to “shine” in the reflection of light from the moon and stars as Santa’s sleigh travels the skies around the world delivering gifts for sleeping girls and boys.

So the next time you hear the joyful sounds of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” being sung at Christmas time, you can assure the children that, even though the other reindeer used to laugh at Rudolph’s glowing nose, Santa has good scientific data to back up counting on Rudolph to guide the sleigh safely through sleet, snow and fog. (Probably not necessary to mention the “microcirculation of the nasal mucosa!”)