Last year while I was teaching at UFL I found this reindeer skull high up on one of the shelves in Mammalogy. The spread of the rack is almost 5 feet. I asked the curator if I could draw it and she said, “yes!” I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do with it but I put it into the hatch of my car and brought it home.
All scientific specimens are labelled with catalogue numbers and any information that may be important about how the specimen was collected. The tag usually includes the collection site, the donor, the sex and anything else that might fit on the very small tag. Upon inspection of the tag I found that this specimen came from a the Crandon Zoo in Miami, Florida. I was really surprised as I don’t remember ever seeing a reindeer in a zoo before…let alone in sunny semi-tropical Florida!
Here are some facts I learned along the way about Reindeers:
Reindeer and caribou are classified as the same genus and species, Rangifer tarandus. In Europe, they are called reindeer. In North America, the name reindeer is used when referring to Eurasian populations and the name caribou to refer to wild populations in North America.
Antlers are the reindeer’s most memorable characteristic. A male’s antlers can measure up to 51 inches long, and a female’s antlers can reach 20 inches. Just as a tree has a trunk, so all antlers have a main beam and several branches or tines that grow from the frontal bones of the skull. Sometimes little branchlets or snags are also present. The tip of each antler is called a point. Unlike horns, antlers fall off and grow back larger every year. As new antlers grow, the reindeer is said to be in velvet, because skin, blood vessels, and soft fur cover the developing antlers. When the velvet dries up, the reindeer rubs it off against rocks or trees, revealing the hardened, bony core.
Males begin to grow antlers in February and females in May. They both finish growing their antlers at the same time but shed their antlers at different times of the year. A male drops his in November, leaving him without antlers until the following spring, while female reindeer keep their antlers through the winter until their calves are born in May. This fact has led many to believe that, based on the presence of antlers, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer must have been a female to have those antlers on Christmas Eve!
For months I have been wanting to draw it and I kept putting it off. Finally I decided to do the painting. I wanted to do the whole rack on the paper, but ran into difficulty trying to prop the skull up to draw! Instead I opted to do a composition with the partial skull showing. The bottom jaw is separate and I decided not to include it. For the actual fleshed out reindeer I went to an online stock photography sight and did a composite of the 2 reindeer from photos I purchased. Purchasing the photos gave me the ability to work from the photos without worrying about copyright issues.
I would have liked to have done some live sketching but as I stated………. I live here in sunny Florida and the only reindeer I could find was last seen in Miami in 1977!