Growing up when you thought of reindeer you would think about Santa and the “fact” that they fly, but now that you’re older you know that’s not true. Did you know that even though reindeer do not fly they happen to do something that other animals don’t?
Reindeer eat moss. The moss they eat is called lichen. The reindeer dig in the snow to find it and use their antlers to guard their moss crater from other reindeer. You have probably seen it on the sides of rocks without even knowing it. It’s that crusty growth that is on the sides of them. When lichen gets wet it becomes soft and swells. Some of the larger black ones are edible and are called “rock tripe.” Lichen has actually been eaten by staving explorers when necessary! This doesn’t mean you should go out eating lichen. Many of the varieties of moss are poisonous and cause symptoms like blisters, redness, swelling, pustules, irritation of the skin, and stiffness of the finger joints.
The moss that the reindeer eat is actually named after them: Reindeer Moss. It’s found in the Arctic and grows very slowly. Since wet and cool weather help the growth, spring and fall are the best growth periods. Reindeer moss is a low-protein, high-carbohydrate and the reindeer eat it in the winter because their metabolism slows. Since the calves follow their mothers the calves eat whatever they eat.
- Do you think you could eat lichen if you were starving?
- How would you know if it was the kind of lichen you can eat?
- If you could pick any food and have it named after you, what would it be?