Did You Know? Christmas Special

Here are 10 fun facts about animals associated with Christmas.

Do you know which one is not true?

1. Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) (also known as caribou). Some populations in North America  migrate the farthest of any terrestrial mammal. In a year they can travel up to 5,000km (3,000 miles), covering 100,000,000 km2 (400,000 square miles). To put that into perspective, that’s like travelling from Land’s End to John O’Groat’s almost six times over and covering an area almost twice the size of France.

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). By Alexandre Buisse.


2. Donkey (Equus africanus asinus). Donkeys are often kept in fields with nervous horses because they seem to have a calming effect on them. If a donkey is introduced to a mare and a foal, the foal will often turn to the donkey for support once it has left its mother.

3. Polar bear (Ursus maritimus). Polar bears have such a good sense of smell that they can detect seals buried under 3 feet of snow from 1 mile away. When sprinting, they can reach speeds of up to 25 mph. They are also excellent swimmers, using large paws for propulsion while body fat provides buoyancy.

4. European robin (Erithacus rubecula). Robins use vision-based magnetoreception to sense the magnetic field of the Earth as a navigational ‘compass’.

European robin (Erithacus rubecula). By Francis C. Franklin.

5. Penguins (family Spheniscidae). One species, the chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica), was featured in an episode of the BBC’s Planet Earth II. Millions of these penguins congregate on the remote Zavadovski Island, 1,300 miles east of the Falklands, at the foot of its huge active volcano. Adults risk their lives every day foraging for fish in the stormy seas to feed themselves and their chicks.

6. European turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur). This migratory species is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss, droughts/climate change, hunting and competition with other doves. In Europe’s Common Birds 2007 report, the turtle dove population in Europe had fallen by 62% in recent times.

European turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur). By Yuvalr.

7. Oxen are cattle (Bos taurus) trained as draft animals (e.g. in pulling ploughs and carts). In 2009, a publication in Science reported the mapped bovine genome, showing that cattle share about 80% of our genes and share about 1000 genes with dogs and rodents.

8. House mouse (Mus musculus). Mice eat their own faeces to acquire nutrients produced by bacteria in their intestines. Like most rodents, they do not vomit.

9. Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus). They hibernate in underground tunnels for six months in the cold winter, using their fat reserves to keep them alive until they emerge in spring.

Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus). By Mr Per Harald Olsen.

10. Camels (family Camelidae). The male dromedary camel has an organ in its throat called a dulla, which is a large inflatable sac he extrudes from his mouth when rutting to exert his dominance over other males and to attract females. Camels have humps that store reservoirs of fatty tissue – avoiding the extra layer of insulation over their entire bodies in their hot and dry habitats.

Dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius). By Jjron.