When Do Reindeers Shed Their Antlers? The Untold Secrets: Everything You Need to Know About

When Do Reindeers Shed Their Antlers? 

The Enigma of Reindeer Antlers: A Deep Dive into Nature’s Majesty

In the frigid landscapes of the extreme north, amidst the tundra, boreal forests, and lofty mountains, roams an emblem of northern mythology—the reindeer. Known interchangeably as caribou, these majestic creatures are not merely subjects of fairy tales or Christmas lore; they are integral to the cultures of indigenous peoples and vital to ecosystems. 

How Often Do Reindeers Shed Their Antlers

As we unravel the mystique surrounding reindeer antlers, delve into their life cycle, and explore their significance in both nature and human societies, we embark on a journey beyond the ordinary.

How an Antler Grows and Changes


Around February, when the first antler nubs appear on top of the head, this growth process will begin. For about half an inch a day in the spring and early summer, they will curve backward along the head to make a kind of C shape. The reindeer‘s body also changes in many other unique ways during the summer. For example, its fur turns brown, its eyes turn gold, and its feet become softer. At the same time, the antlers begin to grow a soft but thick silky fur that has a huge amount of extra tiny blood vessels and nerves that help the growth even more.


For the next few months, or until the antlers reach their full size, this velvet will stay on them. Around the first week of August, reindeer will rub or strip off the fur layer from their antlers, leaving only the hard, sharp bone. This is done to get ready for mating season in October and November. A rut is the scientific word for this time of sexual energy. During the rut, the males use their big horns to race to get close to females. When two deer fight, they lock their horns together and try to push the other one out of the way. Most of the time, the smaller male will give up the fight, which means he can’t get to his mates. During a single season, the biggest and strongest males can get together with five to fifteen females.


In November or December, after the rut is over, the reindeer will start to lose its antlers again. In addition, their bodies change in other ways, too. They get a white coat for the winter, their feet get stronger so they can break through the ice and find food, and the color of their eyes changes from gold to blue. By the end of the year, the males will have lost all of their horns.


When you see reindeer antlers this time of year, you might think of those silly fabric horns people wear to holiday parties or put on their dogs’ heads. It’s beyond me to understand why they think a dog would enjoy this. Real reindeer horns are pretty cool, though, as some facts show.


Within the cervid family, reindeer are the only animals whose females likewise have horns. The male reindeer has the biggest antlers compared to its body size. Bull reindeer antlers can be up to 39 inches wide and 53 inches long in some types, making them the second biggest of any deer species after moose.


Antlers are held up by structures made of bone called pedicels. Pituitary gland secretions cause antlers to grow, and they grow very quickly—up to almost an inch per day.  As they grow, tough skin and velvety hair that carries nerves and blood vessels cover them.


Antlers fill with rough, hollow bone and marrow spaces as they reach the end of their growth. When the reindeer rubs and thrashes its antlers against trees and other plants, the velvet dies and goes off faster.


In the winter, when the days get shorter, hormones that make the male reindeer’s antlers grow less strongly.  [Female reindeer don’t lose their antlers until spring or summer when they give birth.] If hormones aren’t released, the pedicel loses calcium. This weakens the link between the pedicel and the antler, and the antler breaks off in the end.

Still, nature makes sure that nothing goes to waste. Rodents and other animals eat fallen antlers, which are a great source of calcium and vitamins.

Antlers: More Than Meets the Eye

Antlers, the largest and most prominent feature of the deer family, are not merely ornamental. They are branching bones, emerging annually from the reindeer’s crown, distinct from the permanent horns found in other species. Akin to the brushstrokes of nature’s canvas, antlers undergo a captivating annual cycle of growth, shedding, and renewal—a spectacle that reflects the intricate dance of life in the extreme north.

How Often Do Reindeers Shed Their Antlers?

Ah, the curious case of reindeer shedding their majestic crowns! Picture this: both males and females put their heart and soul into growing these impressive antlers, only to bid them adieu at different times of the year.

For the gentlemen of the reindeer realm, it’s a grand spectacle in the late fall. They part ways with their antlers, embracing a sleek, antler-less existence until the promise of spring blooms anew.

But for the ladies, it’s a different story. They hold onto their prized antlers through the wintry embrace, showcasing their resilience until their precious calves make their debut in the spring.

It’s a dance of timing and purpose, where nature orchestrates a symphony of shedding and retention, ensuring that each reindeer experiences its seasonal transformation in its own unique rhythm.

The Dance of Antler Growth

February marks the inception of this captivating process, with antler nubs timidly emerging from the reindeer’s crown. As spring unfolds, antlers grow rapidly, adopting a graceful curvature, forming a distinctive C shape. Meanwhile, the reindeer undergoes a metamorphosis, donning a browner coat, gold-colored eyes, and softer hooves. The antlers, wrapped in a velvety fur laden with blood vessels and nerves, burgeon until their zenith is reached in August.

Come August, a spectacle unfolds—the stripping of the velvet layer. Reindeer engage in this ritual, preparing for the rut, a period of intense mating competition. The clash of antlers, symbolic of strength, ensues as males vie for access to mates. Dominance prevails, and the rut concludes with shedding antlers in November or December. This cyclical dance, intertwined with the changing seasons, showcases the resilience and adaptability of these creatures.

Antler Size and Sexual Differences

Antlers, primarily a male instrument, showcase sexual dimorphism unique to reindeer. Males boast intricate antlers, spanning 39 to 53 inches in beam length, while females wield simpler, 20-inch antlers. Intriguingly, females retain their antlers beyond the mating season, shedding them after producing calves in spring. Antler size, a barometer of health and hierarchy, reflects the interconnectedness of reindeer life with their environment.

Here Are Some Often Wondered Things About Reindeer Antlers!

FAQs Answers
Do reindeer shed their antlers every year? Both sexes finish growing their antlers at the same time but shed them at different times of the year. Typically, males drop their antlers in the late fall, leaving them without antlers until the following spring, while females keep their antlers through the winter until their calves are born in the spring.
How do reindeer shed their antlers? Without hormone stimulation, the pedicel loses calcium, weakening the point of connection between it and the antler, and eventually the antler breaks off.
Why do female reindeer keep their antlers in winter? Female reindeer use their antlers to defend food patches in cleared snow. The largest antlers signify social dominance and superior physical condition. These antlers also serve as protection against predators and aid in snow clearance from food sources. Males, on the other hand, showcase their antlers to impress females, a visual display of their prowess.
What age do reindeer get their antlers? Calves begin their antler growth about a month after birth. This growth pattern presents an opportunity to categorize reindeer sex and age based on visible antler characteristics.
Does it hurt when reindeer shed their antlers? Shedding antlers is a natural and painless process for reindeer.
Do only male reindeer lose their antlers? Both sexes complete antler growth simultaneously but shed them at different times of the year. Typically, males shed their antlers in late fall, while females retain theirs through winter until spring calving.
Do antlers bleed when they break? Yes, antlers can bleed if the velvet, a skin rich in blood vessels covering growing antlers, is cut or damaged.
Why do deer antlers bleed when they shed? Shedding velvet occurs as a result of the deer’s reduced blood supply to this part of the body. This natural process involves the disintegration of tissues and may cause some itching, leading to the shedding of bloody velvet.
What causes antlers to fall off? Dropping of antlers occurs when a buck’s testosterone levels decrease post-rut or mating season. The osteoclast, a bone cell, removes existing bone tissue between the pedicle and antlers, prompting their shedding.
Do female deer lose their antlers? Female whitetail and mule deer do not typically grow antlers. However, sometimes, due to hormonal imbalances, a doe might grow a small set of antlers.
Do antlers grow back? Antlers grow annually for deer and related species. They shed these antlers every winter, and the growth process begins anew each spring.
Do female deer have antlers? Generally, only male deer grow antlers. Yet, there have been rare instances of female deer growing antlers, attributed to testosterone regulation issues. Caribou, however, stands out as a deer species in which females regularly grow antlers.
What is the purpose of reindeer antlers? Reindeer use their antlers to scrape away snow and soil to find food and for self-defense. Both males and females possess antlers, making reindeer the sole deer species where females sport these adornments.
What is the difference between antlers and horns? Antlers, unlike horns, are shed and regrown annually. While both genders usually bear horns, antlers are a seasonal phenomenon and grow anew each year. An exception lies in the pronghorn, which sheds and regrows its horn sheath annually.
What are antlers used for by humans? Historically, antlers have served various human purposes, including the creation of tools, weapons, ornaments, and toys.

Antlers: The Living Masterpieces

Antlers, sprouting from bony pedestals known as pedicels, unravel an awe-inspiring growth story. Initiated by secretions from the pituitary gland, their expansion defies nature’s norms, burgeoning at an astonishing rate of nearly an inch per day. Swathed in skin and tender velvet, pulsating with life through intricate networks of blood vessels and nerves, these antlers paint a canvas of unparalleled beauty.

Human Reindeer Antler Uses

Many northern indigenous societies, notably the Sami of northern Sweden and the Inuit of North America, utilize reindeer for milk, fur, meat, blood, and transportation. Knife handles, shovels, and drying racks may be made from reindeer antlers. Some civilizations have a specific usage for each antler portion. This custom has helped humanity live in harsh northern climates for thousands of years. Reindeer are semi-domesticated for better access to their resources. The world’s only tamed deer.

As their growth reaches its zenith, a transformation occurs—the once tender velvet gives way to coarse, spongy bone, filling the antler’s core with marrow spaces. The reindeer, in a balletic display of nature’s course, aids the velvet’s demise by rubbing and thrashing its antlers against trees and foliage.

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