Reindeer | Facts, Diet, Habitat & Pictures

Reindeer | Facts, Diet, Habitat & Pictures

Reindeer Overview


The reindeer, also known as caribou in North America, is a robust and elegant creature. They have a stocky build with short, strong legs and cloven hooves adapted for traversing snowy terrain. Reindeer are covered in thick, shaggy fur, which varies in color from light brown to grayish-brown.

Both males and females sport branched antlers, though the males' antlers are larger and more impressive. Their faces are adorned with gentle, dark eyes and a black nose, while a mane of fur cascades from their neck. Reindeer's striking appearance is iconic in the Arctic and subarctic regions they inhabit.

Origins And Evolution

Reindeer, also known as caribou in North America, have a fascinating evolutionary history. They belong to the deer family, Cervidae, and are closely related to other deer species. Fossil records suggest that reindeer ancestors emerged around 15 million years ago during the Miocene epoch.

Over time, they evolved unique adaptations to survive in the cold Arctic and subarctic regions, including thick fur, specialized hooves for digging through snow, and antlers that both males and females possess.

They have played a vital role in the cultures and survival of indigenous peoples in these harsh environments, serving as a source of food, clothing, and transportation. Today, they are celebrated as iconic symbols of the winter season and are integral to holiday folklore, particularly as Santa Claus's trusted companions.

Behavior and Lifestyle

They are highly adaptable and social animals. They typically form herds that can range in size from a few individuals to thousands. These herds provide safety from predators and help conserve body heat in frigid environments.

Reindeer are known for their migratory behavior, covering vast distances in search of food throughout different seasons. They have a varied diet, feeding on lichens, grasses, shrubs, and other vegetation. They also have a unique trait of both males and females growing antlers, which they use for competition and defense.

Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family: Cervidae
  • Genus: Rangifer
  • Species: Rangifer tarandus


  • Arctic and subarctic regions of North America (caribou)
  • Northern Europe and Asia
  • Greenland
  • Iceland
  • Scandinavia
  • Siberia
  • Northern Canada
  • Alaska
  • Scandinavia
  • Northern Russia

Fast Facts

  • Name: Reindeer
  • Scientific Name: Rangifer tarandus
  • Habitat: Arctic regions
  • Diet: Herbivorous grazer
  • Physical Features: Antlered beauty
  • Nocturnal: Diurnal grazers
  • Solitary: Seasonal herds
  • Unique Order: Artiodactyla order
  • Lifespan: 12-15 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Facts: Sleigh puller

Physical Characteristics

  • Color: Brown fur
  • Skin Type: Thick hide
  • Top Speed: Swift runner
  • Lifespan: 12-15 years
  • Weight: Medium-sized
  • Length: Antler to tail
  • Age of Sexual Maturity: 2 years
  • Age of Weaning: 6 months

Reindeer FAQs

Are reindeer and caribou the same thing?

Yes, reindeer and caribou are the same species, but the term "caribou" is used in North America, while "reindeer" is used in Europe and Asia.

What do reindeer eat?

They are herbivores and mainly eat lichens, grasses, shrubs, leaves, sedges, and sometimes fungi.

Do both male and female reindeer have antlers?

Yes, both males and females grow antlers, but the males' antlers are usually larger and more branched.

Do reindeer fly with Santa's sleigh?

No, they associated with Santa Claus are part of a beloved holiday legend and do not fly.

Why do reindeer migrate?

It migrates in search of food, following seasonal vegetation changes in the Arctic and subarctic regions.

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