The Marvel and Magic of Reindeer Antlers

Reindeer with Antlers

Dmitry Chulov  / Shutterstock 

If you’ve ever wondered where reindeer get their powers from, look no further than those towering crowns of bone.

OK, so science hasn’t actually proven that reindeer can fly and thus I can neither confirm nor deny that magical power. But, reindeer do have some very impressive tricks up their sleeves ... or atop their heads as the case may be. Their antlers are nothing short of remarkable.

Nine Antler Facts

The latest installment of the KQED San Francisco DEEP LOOK video series is all about antlers. It’s fascinating – and sparked some sleuthing into the many wonders that the amazing antler beholds. Seriously, they really are a marvel. Consider the nine following facts, and then see more about these impressive appendages in the video below.

1. Antlers are bones that sprout from the head. Can you image how handy that could come in for us humans? Sadly for us antler-covetous, it’s a gift bestowed only upon reindeer, elk, and their cervid kin, like moose and deer.

2. Antlers are generally reserved only for the males since testosterone is required for them to sprout, but reindeer are an equal opportunity antler-provider – the lady reindeers get antlers too. Badass.

3. Males use their antlers during mating season to woo and fend off other reindeer Romeos. But once mating season is over, testosterone drops and the antlers fall off – though a new set starts growing almost immediately. They increase in size each year until the animal reaches senior citizen status, and then they begin shrinking.

4. When the antlers are growing, they are upholstered in a fuzzy sheath of skin and fur called velvet. It is filled with special nerves and carries blood and nutrient to help build the bone it covers. Like living nurturing fur, how cool is that?

5. The velvet is extra sensitive to the touch, which encourages the antlers' owners to take much care with them until they are strong and ready to rumble.

6. Once the antlers are hard and ready, after about three months, the blood stops flowing and the velvet cracks and begins to peel off, revealing the shiny new set of bony branches.

7. Unlike our bones, which have nerves in them and hurt like heck when we break them, the bone of antler has no nerves and can thus become mighty weapons.

8. Antlers are not horns; horns are made from keratin and remain firmly attached to the animal throughout its life.

9. Scientists are fascinated by the nerves in antlers that allow them to regenerate year after year – which is unique among mammals – and they are looking at ways that this process could help humans who have suffered debilitating nerve damage.

See Antlers in Action