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Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer's cooling strategy revealed
Date:10/26/2011

the body through the jugular vein to keep their temperature down.

However, as the animals continued exercising and generating more heat, they switched to panting, throwing their mouths wide open and flopping their tongues out like dogs. 'The tongue is large, vascularised and well circulated,' explains Blix, and adds, 'They moisturise the tongue so you have evaporation which also takes heat away from the blood'.

Monitoring the temperature of the reindeer's brain, the team noticed that the blood flow through the animal's cooling tongue peaked when the brain's temperature reached a critically high 39C, at which point the reindeer switched to their third tactic. They began selectively cooling the brain by diverting cooled venous blood which came from the nose away from the body and up into the head, where it entered a network of heat exchanging blood vessels to cool the hot arterial blood destined for the brain to protect it from overheating.

Blix admits that initially he had not thought that this strategy would work. 'Only 2% of the respiratory volume went through the nose when they resorted to open mouth panting,' he says. However, when he calculated the colossal amounts of air inhaled by the exercising animals coupled with the low air temperatures it was clear that the reindeers were able to inhale sufficient cold air through their noses to keep their brains cool, but only as a last resort once the other cooling tactics were no longer sufficient.

So Blix and his colleagues have discovered how heavily insulated reindeer prevent themselves from overheating and how Rudolph keeps cool every Christmas Eve.


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Contact: Sue Chamberlain
jeb@biologists.org
44-122-342-5525
The Company of Biologists
Source:Eurekalert

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