Freshly Baked Science
The Science of Rudolph's Red Nose
12th December 2018
Rudolph is without a doubt the most famous reindeer on earth! He is well known for his bright red nose, which allowed him to guide Santa’s sleigh. If you’ve ever seen a reindeer in real life, you may have been disappointed to find that they don’t all have beacons for noses! So how is it possible for Rudolph to have developed this unusual (but useful) nose?
Let’s address the colour first. The red, rosy nature of Rudolph’s nose is thanks to blood vessels! Reindeer have 25% more capillaries, with red blood flowing through, in their noses than humans. In cold weather and higher up (in the sky, pulling Santa’s sleigh), there will be an increase in blood flow to the nose to help keep it warm. Scientists have done studies on reindeer that have shown that their noses show up as red (warm) in a thermographic image, after running.
So, the colour of Rudolph’s nose could be due to the network of blood vessels found in his nose. But what about the infamous glow? Many organisms, including fireflies and some species of fish, on Earth, are able to create their own light through a cool process called bioluminescence. In order for Rudolph to be capable of luminescence, he would have had to develop 3 parts to his nose. The first part would be just like every other reindeer, which would allow him to breathe in oxygen. The other two parts would be unique to Rudolph.
The first unique part would be a layer of a light-producing organ, which would have to contain a light producing substance, like luciferin and an enzyme which catalyses the reaction, like luciferase. The final part would act almost like a filter for the light. Most organisms capable of bioluminescence produce a green light, but as Rudolph produces red light, he would need a red phosphorescent layer, which would absorb green light and emit it as red light!
Now you know how it would be possible for Rudolph to have a red, glowing nose, we think it’s time for a little hit of female empowerment! Did you know that most male reindeer will lose their antlers during the winter? With this in mind, all the reindeer that pull Santa’s sleigh that we see in pictures are shown to have antlers. This gives a very strong possibility that most of Santa’s reindeer are actually female! Girl power!