You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. But how will nature give Santa's reindeer the best justification of all?
Flight is the first and most obvious issue to tackle. Not everyone is 100% sure where the image of reindeer carrying Santa's sleigh originated. Some say it was a declawed corruption of goats carrying Thor's chariot. Others say it was how real reindeer look when under the influence of mushroom consumption. Whatever the reason, the sad fact remains that reindeer and their wild counterparts, caribou, just aren't built for flight.
So how does one make them suitable for application to serve Saint Nicholas?
Let's start with the most obvious proposal--give them wings. It's not rocket science. Having wings is the only way vertebrates can fly. But the real question is, which wings? This is important because Santa's reindeer have to be built for two things--speed and distance. Albatrosses have what scientists call "high-aspect ratio wings", which usually have low wing loading and are far longer than they are wide, ideal for long-distance soaring. But when you have to cover one hemisphere in twelve hours and the other in twelve more, speed is also essential. That is for the "high speed wings", a type you'd find in ducks and their most feared enemy, the Peregrine Falcon. An intermediary of the two types could be the answer, but does it exist?
Unfortunately, just gluing wings onto a deer's shoulders won't cut it. For real flight capability, we need to change the skeleton. My first proposal is to make the bones hollow, just like a bird. This helps in lightening the weight load without sacrificing strength.
Another anatomical requirement for flight is to have fewer bones, so my next proposal is this--get rid of the tail altogether (they have tails, small as they may be), shorten the spine a little and reduce the hoof number from cloven to singular--in simpler English, turn a deer's foot into a horse's foot.
My next proposal is to buff up the thorax. How? First, by lengthening the thoracic vertebrae into a strong hump (more like a bison's than a deer's). Second, by enlarging the sternum into a keel proportionately identical to a pigeon's (by itself proportionately larger than that of its worst foe, the Peregrine Falcon).
But if I buff up the thorax to the proposed degrees onto a mammal varying in shoulder height from 33.6 to 58.8 inches, that would make it too front-heavy. So my next proposal is to raise the shoulders up. How far up? The tallest deer in the world, the long-extinct Stag Moose, stood eight feet tall at the shoulders. To even out the frontal weight load, my next proposal would be to angle the neck near-vertically, just like another long-extinct kind of deer, the Irish Elk.
The thicker, meatier chest is already covered, but I have a feeling that it would take more than that for eight reindeer to carry a sleigh full of gifts for two billion good Christian children. They'd also need a larger heart--proportionately closer to a bird's than a mammal's. Larger lungs--15% of the total body volume rather than the typical mammalian 7%--coupled with air sacs could improve stamina, as well.
There is another proposal that I find interesting--since the reindeer will have bird wings, one must consider feathers being the whole integument from beginning to end. A coat of feathers actually has better efficiency at body temperature than fur. Whereas fur just keeps the body warm, feathers can help in keeping the body warm and cool. This might prove useful in making sure that the reindeer don't overheat during their annual job.
These proposals listed above mean one last proposal--turning Santa's sleigh from this...
In the event one does not find the perspective clear, this is a travois. Unlike the sort of dog sleds you see in the Iditarod races, it splays out like a fan. For eight reindeer of the caliber of the proposals listed above, this might help even out the weight distribution and even give their wings more room to spread.
Are any of my proposals listed above sound, or have I just brought too much weight for the reindeer to fly?