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"More terrestrial space is traversed on foot each year than any other organism that roams the Earth"
Reindeer have become a whimsical animal. The story of them being able to fly and pull Santa's sleigh and others like it make them interesting focal points for young and old. However, there is still a lot to learn about these large animals that live in cold climates around the world.
Caribou are one of the largest deer species after the caribou. These animals have been known to cover as much as 3,100 square miles of land space during their year-round travels. When traveling in packs, reindeer can be very protective of other members of their herd. For the most part, reindeer are gentle and relaxed animals.
6 Amazing Reindeer Animal Facts
- Amazing eyes: Reindeer are the only mammals known to see ultraviolet light! This adaptation allows them to spot predators whose white fur is more visible under ultraviolet light.
- Natural Air Heaters: Reindeer have the ability to heat the air they inhale with their noses before it enters their lungs.
- Beware of eagles: Golden eagles are among the biggest predators of newborn reindeer calves.
- Yes, they're fast : Reindeer are animals that can reach high speeds in sprints. In fact, even at 24 hours old, newborn reindeer can run faster than Olympic sprinters!
- Reginald the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The most famous reindeer in the world today is Santa's trusty red-nosed reindeer, Rudolph, but that wasn't always his name! Rudolph originally came from a Montgomery Worldwide coloring book in the 1930s. Originally he was almost named Reginald instead of having a glowing nose with glowing eyes!
- Four (yes, four) stomachs: A reindeer is an animal with multiple stomachs. In fact, there are four of them! A member of the deer family, reindeer are ruminants with four distinct stomachs, each responsible for a different digestive function.
Classification of reindeer
Reindeer are classified as mammals belonging to the caribou family. In addition to caribou, the family includes deer, fawn, elk, and pudu deer.
Rangifer Tarandus is the scientific name of the reindeer. Rangifer was originally known as a small constellation between Cassiopeia and Camelopards. In Latin, Rangifer and Tarandus both mean reindeer, where Rangifer is the generic name and Tarandus is the specific name.
Caribou vs. Caribou
Reindeer names vary by geographic location. In North America, reindeer are often referred to as reindeers when they are domesticated, and caribou when free-living in nature. In Europe, the species is known as caribou regardless of domestication.
The domestication and hunting of reindeer is extremely important to many cultures in the Arctic. For example, the Sami people in Finnish Lapland have long relied on reindeer not only for food, but also for clothing and travel.
While there are different types of reindeer and their sizes vary by species, the average reindeer is 4 feet tall at the shoulder. Reindeer are animals that can grow up to six feet long. This is the same length as a double bed.
Reindeer come in a wide range of weights, from one type to another. The average female reindeer weighs about 240 pounds, twice the weight of the average octopus. The average weight of a male grizzly is 365 pounds, which is just under half that of a grizzly. However, some reindeer have been recorded weighing up to 700 pounds. That's one-fifth the weight of a normal car.
To protect them from cold arctic conditions, reindeer are covered in thick fur. This fur consists of hollow hairs that trap and heat air, keeping the reindeer warm. The insulating hollow hairs also give the animal greater buoyancy in the water, allowing it to float if necessary. This feature makes river crossings easier during migration. Reindeer fur can be one of many shades of brown and light beige. There are white patches on the chest, abdomen, neck and upper hoof area.
Reindeer hooves are useful tools that are important to their survival. The hooves are broad. In winter, the hard hooves allow reindeer to cut through snow and ice for traction. During the warmer months, reindeer's hooves become softer, making it easier to swim and grip in mud. There is a noticeable sound when the tendon rubs against the hoof bone.
Both male and female reindeer grow antlers. However, the antlers of male reindeer tend to be twice as large. The down around the male antlers tends to fall off in late August. They shed their antlers after fall rutting in late October or November. Females don't shed their antlers until spring.
Want to learn more details about reindeer antlers? Be sure to read "Reindeer Antlers: Everything You Wanted to Know"!
Behavior and Lifestyle
Reindeer can run 50 miles an hour! In addition to being fast sprinters, reindeer are migration champions. These animals have been known to travel more than 3,100 miles in a year—the same length as Brooklyn's Self-Transcendence Run, the longest certified run in the world.
Reindeer travel in herds, which can house tens of thousands of animals at any time of summer. These groups are called groups. Scientists believe this could alleviate mosquitoes, warbler flies and nose flies, which plague the reindeer. When the weather starts to turn cold, the herds thin out. During this time, the herd can be reduced to as few as ten members at a time. This usually occurs during the estrous period in autumn. This is also the time when breeding occurs most often in the herd.
The fossil record shows that the first known reindeer first evolved around 3.6 million to 2.6 million years ago. To survive in their frigid Arctic home, these resilient creatures had to adapt a number of traits. Some of these genetic abnormalities include optimized vitamin D absorption for antler growth, ideal fat distribution patterns for insulation, and a lack of a "biological clock" that normally affects behavior according to day or night, possibly due to the extremely short days in the Arctic Circle.
You'll find reindeer living in polar and arctic climates. Most reindeer live in the northern hemisphere. Cattle are found in Europe, Asia, and North America. These animals prefer forests because these spaces are filled with the food resources the animals need to survive. Dense trees such as pine, spruce and other conifers provide places for reindeer to sleep. These trees offer some protection from the elements and easy detection by predators.
Read our article "Where the Reindeer Live" for full details on where they are!
Location of reindeer subspecies around the world
There are six main subspecies (sometimes called reindeer breeds) of reindeer known to roam the Earth today. These include:
- Svalbard Reindeer – Found in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, this is the smallest recorded subspecies of reindeer.
- Finnish Forest Reindeer – This subspecies of reindeer is so rare that it is listed as a threatened species. Finnish forest reindeer are common in Russian Karelia and the provinces of North Karelia, Kainuu and Savonia in south-central Finland.
- Boreal Woodland Caribou – Boreal woodland caribou, commonly known as woodland caribou, live in the forests of Canada and North America.
- Badlands Caribou – This subspecies of reindeer also includes porcupine caribou. These animals are found throughout Canadian territories, including Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Heath reindeer have also been documented roaming Kitaa, Greenland.
- Eurasian Tundra Reindeer – Also known as mountain reindeer, this subspecies of reindeer lives in western Scandinavia. You'll find most of these herds in Norway.
- Peary caribou – The smallest caribou of the caribou family, these caribou relatives live on the Arctic High Islands of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories of Canada.
Caribou are classified as herbivores, feeding on plants and vegetation.
What do reindeer eat?
Some of reindeer's favorite foods include willow and birch leaves, mushrooms, sedges, cottongrass, and ground plants. Animals really like it if it has fruit and berries. However, while these foods are available as treats, eating them in large quantities is not healthy for reindeer.
During the colder months when plants and vegetation are limited, reindeer use their keen sense of smell to locate lichens under the snow. Animals use their hard hooves to break through the snow and ice to obtain these foods. In these cases, cows use their antlers to help access the lichen. On average, reindeer consume 9-18 pounds of food per day.
While it's not their first choice of food, reindeer have been known to eat small rodents on occasion. This enables them to maintain their nutritional needs and meet their dietary protein and iron needs.
For a complete breakdown of what reindeer eat, be sure to read What Reindeer Eat: 7 Important Dietary Foods.
Predators and Threats
Reindeer live in the wild and are threatened by different types of predators.
What do reindeer eat?
The most common prey on reindeer include wolves, golden eagles, and several types of bears. However, when killed, scavengers usually eat the reindeer's meat.
Humans are one of the biggest predators of reindeer. They hunt them for meat, hides and furs. Fur is used to make warm clothing for extremely cold weather conditions. The leather is tanned. This creates a water-resistant leather material ideal for making shoes, tents and clothing.
While domesticated reindeer don't often worry about predators threatening their livelihoods, they face other types of threats. Most reindeer in captivity do not have the proper environment to maintain their lifestyle. This can lead to the death of the animal from depression, disease or even starvation if the correct type of food is not provided.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
The reindeer breeding season runs from early October to late November. This is known as a fall rut. Males select 5-15 females from the herd during the breeding season to build a harem. In preparation for this annual event, males rub the down on their antlers. Their bodies began to grow in size, their necks swelled, and a tuft of hair grew on the underside of their necks.
The total gestation period of a reindeer pregnancy is 228-234 days. To prepare for the birth of babies, cows leave the herd in the spring and head to a common calving lot. It is common for mothers to give birth to one calf at a time. It is rare for a mother to give birth to twins. This is the only litter for female reindeer this year.
Calves suckle during their first week of life. After this period, solid foods are added to their diet. Babies typically double their body weight by two weeks of age. Babies start weaning when they are about six months old. However, the baby will live with the mother for the first year. The average life expectancy of reindeer in the wild is 15 years. This period is even shorter for domesticated animals, which lack the same stimuli as they do in their natural habitat.
A reported 2.1 million caribou and caribou live in different parts of the world. This is less than half of the population reported in 1996. At the time, researchers estimated that there were 4.7 million cattle on Earth.
There are many reasons for population decline. On the one hand, with the continuous development of human beings, the environment for reindeer to survive and forage is decreasing. Increased wolf and bear populations also pose a greater threat to the animals. Finally, human hunting for fur continues to pose a threat to these animals.
reindeer in popular culture
Reindeer have become incredibly iconic in pop culture due to their association with Santa Claus and Christmas folklore. We have full details in What's the Story Behind Santa Claus and the Reindeer.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first appeared in the Montgomery Ward catalog in 1939. The character was originally conceived as "Reginald," a red-eyed reindeer who could guide Santa's sleigh, but was later changed to "Rudolph" before publication. After a stop-motion animated film in 1964, Rudolph's popularity and the reindeer's association with Santa reached new heights.
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Reindeer FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What is the difference between reindeer and elk?
Both caribou and elk are large members of the deer family, but they have important differences. First, elk can weigh up to 850 pounds, while caribou are much smaller. Second, they have different appearances suited to their climates. For example, reindeer have wider hooves for walking on deep snow.
How do reindeer survive Arctic winters?
Reindeer have many adaptations that allow them to survive extremely cold temperatures. For example, female antlers are the only deer species with antlers, an adaptation to digging into snow for food. Additionally, reindeer feet have multiple adaptations that allow them to move through snow more easily.
For a full analysis of how reindeer survive in such a harsh environment, read "Caribou of the Arctic: How Do They Survive?"
Why do we call them reindeer?
Reindeer are one of the largest species of deer. The name "reindeer" is an adaptation of Old Norse hreindyri. The word "dyr" means animal. The term "hreinn" when used alone refers to animals with horns.
The horns found on both male and female reindeer are an important trait for reindeer survival. These horns are used to dig into the thick snow and ice found on the tundra where the animals live. They are also used to combat competing animals from other herds and predators that reindeer encounter while living in the wild.
What is the difference between deer and reindeer?
The main difference between deer and reindeer is that reindeer are shaped differently to suit their Arctic habitat. Remember, reindeer are a type of deer.
When comparing common deer to reindeer, many differences can be found. Among them, the types of areas where these animals can be found. Common deer live in temperate climates, including every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Caribou are found in polar and arctic regions, including Europe, Asia and North America.
The physical characteristics of most deer and caribou also vary widely. Other deer species usually have thin-bone antlers. Only male deer have the ability to grow antlers. This is compared to male and female reindeer, which can grow antlers. Their antlers are broad, with more space from side to side than the width of their body.
What's the Difference Between Caribou and Caribou?
The names reindeer and reindeer are often used interchangeably. However, there are many differences that set these animals apart. When considering the concept of reindeer vs reindeer, it's important to note that both animals come from the same lineage. Caribou are the result of the domestication of caribou. Caribou live in the southern hemisphere, while caribou live more in the northern hemisphere.
There are also physical differences between caribou and caribou. Caribou tend to be shorter and wider than caribou. Reindeer also have thicker fur. Reindeer are known to migrate during the seasons. These animals travel long distances to warmer regions during the colder seasons. They also make reverse trips when the weather warms up.
Are reindeer herbivores, carnivores or omnivores?
Reindeer are herbivores, which means they eat plants.
To which kingdom do reindeer belong?
Reindeer belong to the animal kingdom.
What phylum do reindeer belong to?
Reindeer belong to the phylum Chordate.
Which category do reindeer belong to?
Reindeer belong to the class Mammalia.
What family do reindeer belong to?
Reindeer belong to the deer family.
What order do reindeer belong to?
Reindeer belong to the order Artiodactyla.
What genus do reindeer belong to?
Reindeer belong to the genus Rangifer.
What type of mulch does Reindeer have?
Reindeer are covered with fur.
What type of habitat do reindeer live in?
Reindeer live in forests close to the Arctic tundra.
What do reindeer eat?
Reindeer eat grass, herbs and berries.
Who are the natural enemies of reindeer?
Predators of reindeer include humans, bears and wolves.
What is the average litter size for reindeer?
The average litter size for reindeer is 1 head.
Any fun facts about reindeer?
Reindeer are also known as caribou.
What is the scientific name of the reindeer?
The scientific name of the reindeer is Rangifer Tarandus.
What is the lifespan of a reindeer?
Reindeer can live 12 to 15 years.
How fast are reindeer?
Reindeer can travel at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
What is the difference between moose and reindeer?
The key differences between moose and reindeer are size, appearance, lifespan, habitat, habitat and physical characteristics.
What is the difference between deer and reindeer?
The main differences between deer and reindeer are size, appearance, physical features, habitat, lifespan and habits.
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