Researchers Discover Why Rudolph's Nose Is Red
December 18, 2012

Researchers Discover Why Rudolph’s Nose Is Red

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Each year after Thanksgiving we are treated to an array of Christmas songs and TV specials. There are many classics out there, including Frosty the Snowman, Little Drummer Boy and Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. But do you recall the most famous of all?

Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer has been heralded as a classic X-mas tune for the ages first introduced to the world in 1939 as an advertising gimmick for Montgomery Ward. But while the tiny reindeer that could became a holiday legend, the story behind his nose has been steeped in mystery. Why is his nose so red?

Researchers from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, have come to the realization that the reason behind Rudolph´s red nose has to do with blood. Particularly, they explain that the nose is richly supplied with red blood cells which help to protect it from freezing in extreme temperatures and also to regulate brain temperature.

They said this superior “nasal microcirculation” is essential if the reindeer will be pulling Santa´s sleigh in extreme cold. The team revealed their findings in a special Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal, published online at today.

The team said their studies of the adult reindeer´s nasal microcirculation revealed similarities with nasal microvasculature in humans, as well as striking differences. Reindeer nasal microcirculation exhibited a highly vascularized nasal mucosa, a red cell-rich nasal septal mucosa, and a microvessel density 25 percent greater than that of humans.

To understand the red-nose conundrum, researchers used a hand-held video microscope and assessed the noses of five healthy human volunteers and found circulating blood vessel density of 15 mm/mm2. When applying the technique to two reindeer noses, the team found a 25-percent higher density in blood vessels compared to humans.

The research team said the higher density of mucous glands in the reindeers´ noses helps “maintain an optimal nasal climate during changing weather conditions and extremes of temperature as well as being responsible for fluid transport and acting as a barrier.”

“In colder climates and also when they are higher up in the atmosphere pulling Santa's sleigh, the increase in blood flow in the nose will help keep the surface warm,” John Cullen, PhD, of the University of Rochester in New York, told Charles Bankhead at MedPage Today.

In the human nose, nasal mucosa plays a significant role in human health and disease. In the healthy state the nasal microcirculation facilitates the processing of inhaled air, control of inflammation, fluid transport for mucous formation, and oxygenation of nasal parenchyma.

The study does not completely resolve the questions surrounding the origin of Rudolph´s red nose and why it glows so bright, Cullen remarked. With humans, many noses turn red during alcohol consumption–it is unlikely Rudolph is going on a binge before his sleigh-pulling duties.

“It would have been interesting to see if giving the reindeer alcohol would have caused their noses to be redder and increased the blood flow,” said Cullen. If alcohol did play a role in the color of Rudolph´s nose, the study would have had implications that extended well beyond a single reindeer.