Observation of the Week, 4/15/16

A traffic-stopping herd of Reindeer seen in Norway by alessandro_gentilini is our Observation of the Week!

While on a road trip in Scandinavia with his girlfriend Susy, Alessandro Gentilini had several memorable encounters with Reindeer. In Finland, he says, “the road we were traveling became deserted and we were the only car around. It was like an airport runway. A reindeer stood there quietly looking at us. I realized that this really was a Finnish highway.” The photo above, however, was taken in Norway, as Alessandro and Susy were returning from the North Cape. While driving along the road they had to stop at the exit to a tunnel, as the way was blocked by a herd Reindeer! Susy, “who always had a camera ready,” took the above photo of them, capturing the very surreal scene. Alessandro hypothesizes that maybe the tunnel walls were a source of minerals for the animals, and “licking the tunnel walls is perhaps an easy way for them to get these nutrients... but I’m not a naturalist and so I may be mistaken!’

Reindeer is the name for Eurasian populations of Rangifer tarandus, known as Caribou in North America. These large cervids have several really cool adaptations which help them survive the punishing winters of the Arctic regions. Their noses and respiratory system, for instance, are shaped in such a way that cold air is warmed and moistened before going to the lungs. And in the depths of winter, Reindeer eat lichen (especially Reindeer lichen) and are the only mammals in the world who eat lichen. The enzyme lichenase helps them convert the lichen to sugars and, aside from some gastropods, no other animals have this enzyme. Also, you’ll notice that all the Reindeer in this photo have antlers - this is the only deer species in which both males and females grow them.

As a child, Alessandro “was not very interested in nature,” even when exploring the mountains with his parents. But an interest in photography and summer vacations in the Dolomites when he was in his twenties helped him develop an interest in the natural world, and he says that now with his photography “what interests me most is documenting nature.”

Alessandro is now part of a growing contingent of iNaturalist users in Italy, and he uses iNaturalist “as a journal or log where I record animals I see,” including the only observation of Chirocephalus marchesonii, a species of fairy shrimp endemic to Lago di Pilato (see above), on iNaturalist. Alessandro says “using iNaturalist certainly influences my interactions with nature,” so much so that even the roadkill he sees while he rides his bike now makes him ponder. “I'd rather see it alive but then I think ‘At least, I could put this picture to put on iNaturalist..’”

- by Tony Iwane


- Here’s a video about Reindeer featuring California Academy of Sciences’ own Dr. Jack Dumbacher.

- Humans have been interacting with reindeer for probably 45,000 years, at least. This page has some info about reindeer hunting, herding, and more.

- There is no documented evidence of reindeer flying or pulling any sleigh belonging to a jolly old elf.

Posted by tiwane tiwane, April 15, 2016 08:07 AM

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