Caribou – Reindeer

Reindeer – Rangifer tarandus

The Caribou also know as Reindeer in Europe seem to appeal to people of all ages due to the legacy and connection they have to the holiday season. This is also why they are often a huge attraction at zoos around the world. They can be very large animals as adults with the males ranging from 350 to 700 pounds. For the females the size is from 180 to 260 pounds. The overall size will really depend on the type of areas where they live and their food sources.

This is the only species of deer where both the males and the females will develop antlers. With all others, it is only the males that do so. It isn’t fully understood why that is the case though. They are very stocky animals and their legs are shorter than other species of deer.

Reindeer Anatomy

The Caribou is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the wild. They are powerful animals that aren’t easily intimidated. The fact that the females have antlers is impressive but they really don’t use them for anything. They don’t fight with them for mating like the males do. It is believed that they are a physical characteristic that can attract the males to them.

The antlers grow from two separate points. They will have a lower and an upper point where the antlers grow from each of them. They range in length from 39 to 53 inches. They have nostrils that are specially designed for living in the colder regions. The air that is taken in is warmed up by the nostrils before it is used in the body. This helps to keep their body temperature where it should be.

They also feature two layers of fur instead of just one. The bottom layer is thick and wooly. This too offers them protection from the bitter cold. The top layer consists of thin hairs that are very long. They also have vents that allow air to circulate through them.

The hooves of the Reindeer are very interesting to take a closer look at. They change in structure for the different times of the year. During the summer these animals need to have more traction because the ground is muddy and slippery. That is when the hooves are sponge like.

In the winter though they become very hard so that they can be used as tools. The Reindeer need to be able to dig in the frozen ground to get to sources of food. Without this change of the hooves it wouldn’t be possible for them to survive.

Reindeer Evolution

We really don’t have concrete answers when it comes to the evolution of Reindeer. It is believed that they were once living in the same locations as other deer. However, something occurred that moved them into the colder regions where others couldn’t survive. Their size likely helped them initially, but then changes in the body too place that helped them to be able to survive there.

The unique nostrils and the second layer of fur on them are believed to be two features of evolution that allows the Reindeer to survive. It is also believed that they were smaller animals but got larger in order to have the ability to store up fat for surviving the harsh winters.

Reindeer Behavior

Caribous tend to form small herds and they seem to live a quiet existence within it but they may form large groups with tens of thousands individuals in the summer months. They are more vocal than most species of deer though. They use grunts and other sounds to communicate with each other. They also do very well in various environments as well as in captivity.

Reindeer Habitat and Distribution

The Caribou has quite a diverse habitat out there that they are able to live in. They tend to live where it is much colder than for other species of deer. They live in the Sub Arctic and Arctic regions. They are quite isolated from other animals as well as from humans in such an environment. Where they live is simply too cold for others to be able to survive.

The main locations of the Reindeer today include Siberia, Norway, Alaska, and Greenland. There are plenty of habitats where these animals have become domesticated. They have help with their food and their shelter needs. It can be hard to differentiate between those that are domesticated and those that are wild. The ones living in the wild are often lighter due to the struggles to find their own food.

They are nomadic animals by nature, and they don’t seem to have a home range. Instead they continue to move to new areas to find food and shelter. It is possible that at times they will end up in territory where they have been before though to feed again. Research shows that these animals can easily travel more than 3,000 miles annually in order to find what they need. That is about 8 miles per day.

Reindeer Diet and Feeding Habits

These large animals have a huge appetite so they need a considerable amount of food to satisfy them. They find plenty to feed on during the summer months. They consume grass, leaves, and twigs. Sometimes they will find areas that offer them bird eggs or mushrooms. In the winter though, it can be very hard to find any of that food. They will mainly survive on lichen until the temperatures warm up.

Reindeer Reproduction

Mating for the Caribou occurs from September and through November. The males fight vigorously for the right to be able to mate with a harem of female that can be up to 20 in number. They have to be extremely dominant in order to be able to do so. They may have to battle several other males to climb up that ladder.

The males may start out the mating season looking healthy and bulky but it will be a different story at the end of it. They burn lots of energy looking for females and fighting the other males. They also are focused on mating instead of looking for food. Once they have mated with the females or lost the right to do so they shift their focus. They are going to consume all the food they can in order to store up some fat to get them through the winter.

The young Reindeer are born in late May or early June. They will be well cared for by their mothers. They grow very quickly so after a few weeks of isolation with only their mother they will go to join the herd.

Reindeer Predators

Even though the Reindeer live in isolated areas, they can still become victims of predators. The very young may make a meal for a large Golden Eagle. There are wolves that may be living in the same area, and they too will feed on the young if they have the opportunity. Both Brown Bears and Polar Bears will prey on the young as well as the adult Reindeer. They do so in order to survive because it can be hard for them to find food out there in those colder locations.

Humans also hunt the Reindeer in both Greenland and Alaska. In fact, they are a primary source of food for many of the villagers in these areas. They also use other parts of the Reindeer to make clothing, shelter, and tools. It is illegal for people to come to these areas to hunt them just for sport. In some instances people do with the understanding that they will donate the remains to the villagers there so that it doesn’t go to waste.

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