Caribou, also known as reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), is a species of large, migratory deer native to the Arctic, sub-Arctic, and boreal regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. The term “caribou” is more commonly used in North America, while “reindeer” is used in Europe and Asia to refer to the same species. Here is a comprehensive definition of the caribou/reindeer:
Caribou (also known as reindeer) General Characteristics & Facts
Caribou, also known as reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), are fascinating animals with several general characteristics and interesting facts:
Caribou/reindeer have a wide distribution, inhabiting the Arctic, sub-Arctic, and boreal regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. They can be found in countries such as Canada, Alaska (USA), Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and Greenland.
Caribou are medium to large-sized deer. Adult males (bulls) are generally larger than females (cows). Bulls can weigh between 350 to 700 kilograms (770 to 1,540 pounds), while cows typically weigh around 160 to 260 kilograms (350 to 570 pounds).
Both male and female caribou grow and shed their antlers each year. The antlers of bulls are larger and more elaborate, with multiple points and complex branching. Female caribou also grow antlers, but they are generally smaller and less branched.
Adaptations for Cold Environments
Caribou have several adaptations that help them survive in cold and harsh environments. Their hooves are wide and concave, acting like snowshoes and helping them walk on snow without sinking. They have a thick winter coat and a specialized nasal structure that warms the air before it reaches their lungs.
Caribou are known for their impressive long-distance migrations. They undertake seasonal movements between their winter and summer ranges in search of food and to avoid extreme weather conditions.
Caribou are herbivores and primarily graze on a variety of plant materials. They feed on grasses, sedges, shrubs, lichens, mosses, and other vegetation found in their habitats. Their specialized digestive system allows them to extract nutrients from tough and fibrous plant materials.
Caribou are social animals and often form large herds. During the breeding season (rut), males engage in fierce competition to establish dominance and access to females. Herds can consist of hundreds or even thousands of individuals, especially during migration.
Caribou/reindeer have been an integral part of the culture and subsistence of indigenous peoples in their range for millennia. They provide food, clothing, and materials for various traditional purposes, and their presence is deeply intertwined with the heritage and customs of these cultures.
Physical Characteristics Caribou (also known as reindeer)
- Coat Color and Seasonal Changes: Caribou have a dense coat that varies in color depending on the season and their location. In the summer, their coat is typically a reddish-brown to light brown, while in the winter, it becomes darker and may appear more grayish. The seasonal changes in coat color help them blend with their surroundings and provide camouflage from predators.
- Antlers: Both male and female caribou grow antlers, which is a unique feature among deer species. The antlers of males, known as bulls, are larger and more elaborate, with multiple points and branching. Female caribou, known as cows, also grow antlers, but theirs are generally smaller and simpler.
- Hooves: Caribou have broad and concave hooves, which help them walk on soft ground and snow without sinking. The hooves act like snowshoes, providing them with stability and preventing them from getting stuck in the snow.
- Muzzle and Nose: The caribou’s muzzle (nose) is broad and dished, which is an adaptation for grazing on ground-level vegetation in their Arctic and sub-Arctic habitats. They have a specialized nasal structure that warms the cold air before it reaches their lungs, which helps them cope with the extreme cold temperatures.
- Size: Caribou are medium to large-sized deer. Adult males (bulls) are generally larger than females (cows). Bulls can weigh between 350 to 700 kilograms (770 to 1,540 pounds), while cows typically weigh around 160 to 260 kilograms (350 to 570 pounds).
- Eyes: Caribou have large, dark eyes with a keen sense of vision, which helps them detect potential threats and predators in their open and often vast Arctic landscapes.
- Seasonal Adaptations: Caribou are well-adapted to the harsh Arctic climate. In the winter, they develop a thicker, woolly undercoat to provide insulation and keep them warm in the extreme cold temperatures.
- Rump Patch: The rump of caribou has a characteristic patch of white fur, which is more prominent in some subspecies. This feature is often used to distinguish individuals and subspecies.
- Beard: Some caribou individuals, especially bulls, have a white, shaggy beard that hangs from their throat, giving them a distinct appearance.
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Scientific Classification of Caribou
Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
Phylum: Chordata (Chordates)
Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Order: Artiodactyla (Even-toed ungulates)
Family: Cervidae (Deer family)
Species: Rangifer tarandus
Key Locations of Caribou (also known as reindeer)
- Alaska, USA (North America)
- Canada (Arctic and sub-Arctic regions)
- Greenland (Arctic region)
- Norway (Arctic and sub-Arctic regions)
- Sweden (Arctic and sub-Arctic regions)
- Finland (Arctic and sub-Arctic regions)
- Russia (Arctic and sub-Arctic regions)
- Iceland (Arctic region)
- Siberia, Russia (sub-Arctic region)
- Siberian Far East, Russia (sub-Arctic region)
- Northern Europe (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia)
- Northern Asia (Russia, Siberia)
- Mongolia (sub-Arctic region)
- Northern China (sub-Arctic region)
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What does Caribou (also known as reindeer) eat?
- Forbs (non-woody flowering plants)
- Fungi (especially during the summer)
- Small twigs and branche