Reindeers are the domesticated form of the deer and are a subspecies of the red deer. In Europe, they are called reindeer, while in North America, the term caribou is used for wild populations and reindeer for the domesticated ones. Reindeer are native to the Northern Hemisphere’s cold, arctic, and subarctic regions. They are widely distributed throughout North America, Russia, Europe, and Asia.

Read on for more interesting tidbits about these festive creatures!

Reindeer Natural History

Reindeer are found in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and the northern parts of the contiguous United States. Reindeer have been domesticated in Europe since the 18th century.

The first wild reindeer were probably hunted by humans in Siberia 10,000 years ago. Russian traders introduced Reindeer to Alaska and North America in the 18th century. By 1900, wild reindeer populations had declined dramatically due to overhunting and habitat loss.

Reindeer have been domesticated for centuries by humans in Europe, Asia, northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway. The first recorded reindeer used as draft animals dates back to 1000 AD in Lapland. Today, they are used for their meat, hide, and antlers, as well as for their milk and leather. Reindeer are also popular as pets and working animals.


Reindeer are large, even-toed ungulates (hoofed mammals) and are members of Cervidae’s deer family. The smallest reindeer is the Svalbard reindeer, which weighs only 60-70 kg (130-154 pounds). The largest is the Alaskan subspecies of the tundra reindeer, which can weigh up to 300 kg (660 pounds).

Reindeer have a wide range of coat colors, from white to brown to black. The most common color is brown. All reindeer have long, curved antlers that shed and regrow each year. Male reindeer ( bulls) grow larger antlers than female reindeer (cows). Reindeer antlers are used primarily for defense and for display during mating season.

Reindeer are well-suited to life in the Arctic. Their thick fur keeps them warm in the coldest weather, and their hooves are covered in soft padding that helps them move across the snow without slipping. Reindeer also have very good eyesight and can see ultraviolet light, which helps them find food in the dark winter months.

Subspecies of Rangifer Tarandus

Caribou is the North American name for this species, while reindeer is the name used in Europe and Asia. There are 14 subspecies of Rangifer tarandus, but two have gone extinct. These extant species are:

  1. Woodland caribou (includes migratory woodland caribou, boreal woodland caribou, and mountain woodland caribou)
  2. Finnish forest reindeer
  3. Porcupine caribou or Grant’s caribou
  4. Barren-ground caribou
  5. Osborn’s caribou
  6. Novaya Zemlya reindeer
  7. Svalbard reindeer
  8. Kamchatkan reindeer
  9. Peary caribou
  10. Siberian reindeer (Siberian tundra reindeer, Siberian forest reindeer)
  11. Newfoundland caribou
  12. Mountain reindeer or Norwegian reindeer
what do reindeer look like

Physical Features of the Reindeer

The reindeer is the largest member of the deer family. They range in size from 4 to 8 feet long and weigh between 200 and 400 pounds. The males are larger than the female reindeer.

The reindeer is the only member of the deer family, Cervidae, in which both sexes grow antlers. Each year, a reindeer’s antlers grow back larger than they were the previous year. Antlers are used for defense, as well as for digging through snow to find food.

Reindeer are well-suited to their cold, northern habitat. They have a thick coat of fur that helps keep them warm in the winter. Their fur comprises an oily outer layer and a woolly inner layer. The oily outer layer repels water and keeps the reindeer’s skin dry. The woolly inner layer traps air and helps insulate the reindeer’s body. They also have a layer of fat that helps keep them warm.

Reindeer hooves split into two toes and are well adapted to their environment. When the ground is soft in the summer, the hooves spread out to give the reindeer a large surface area to support its weight. In the winter, when the ground is hard and icy, the hooves contract and become hard and sharp, making it easier for the reindeer to walk on ice and crusted snow.

Habits and Lifestyle

Reindeer are social animals and live in herds of 10 to 100 individuals. The reindeer herds are led by a dominant male, while the females and young form the largest part of the group. Reindeer are very nomadic and travel great distances in search of food. They can migrate up to 3,000 miles a year.

Reindeer are capable of running at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. They are also excellent swimmers and can cross large rivers. Reindeer have good eyesight and hearing, which helps them avoid predators. Their main predators are wolves, bears, and humans. Wolverines are more likely to attack young, sick, or injured animals’ fur coats because healthy adult reindeer can usually outrun a bear.


Reindeer Reproduction

Reindeer mate in the fall and give birth to one or two calves in the spring. The gestation period is about seven and a half months. The calves are born thick and can stand soon after birth. They are weaned at around six months old.

Reindeer Diet and Nutrition

Reindeer are herbivores, and their diet consists mostly of plants, such as mosses, sedges, grasses, and especially reindeer lichen, also known as reindeer moss. They also eat twigs, leaves, and berries. In winter, when food is scarce, reindeer eat bark and wood. Reindeer have a four-chambered stomach that helps them digest their plant-based diet. In some areas, they may also eat small amounts of insects and other invertebrates.

Reindeer Lifespan

The average lifespan of a wild reindeer is about ten years. However, captive reindeer have been known to live for up to 20 years.

What’s the Difference Between Reindeer and Elk?

Elk is a subspecies of the Cervidae (deer); we can say that all the elk are deer, but not all the deer are elk.

Reindeer are smaller than elk, with males weighing up to 180 kilograms (400 pounds) and females up to 140 kg (310 lb). They also have different coat colors; while both reindeer and elk have brown fur, reindeer have darker, almost black fur on their backs, while elk have lighter brown fur. Reindeer also have much shorter and narrower antlers than elk ones. Finally, reindeer are proficient swimmers, while elk are not.

Elk are more common in North America, while reindeer are more common in Europe. In North America, the term “reindeer” is often used to refer to wild and domesticated members of the species Rangifer tarandus. In Europe, the term “reindeer” is usually used only to refer to wild members of the species.

What Is the Difference Between a Deer and a Reindeer?

A deer is a hoofed mammal of the family Cervidae, while a reindeer is a breed of deer that is domesticated and used as working animals. Both deer and reindeer are found in North America, Europe, and Asia. Deer are generally smaller than reindeer and have shorter legs and necks. Reindeer also have broader hooves and antlers than deer.

The main difference between deer and reindeer is that deer are wild animals while reindeer are domesticated. Deer are hunted for their meat and antlers, while domesticated reindeer are used for transportation, as working animals, and for their meat and hide.


Reindeer Population

There are two primary subspecies of reindeer: the tundra reindeer and the forest reindeer. Tundra reindeer are found in the Arctic tundra, while forest reindeer are found in northern Europe and Asia boreal forests.

The tundra reindeer is the largest of the two subspecies, with bulls (male reindeers) weighing up to 400 kg (882 lb) and cows (females) typically weighing around 300 kg (661 lb). The forest reindeer is smaller, with bulls averaging around 320 kg (705 lb) and cows approximately 240 kg (529 lb).

Population Number and Decline

The global wild reindeer population is estimated to be around 3.7 million animals. However, this number is in decline due to various human-related impacts, including habitat loss and hunting pressure.

The European wild reindeer population is thought to have declined by as much as 50% over the last century. North America’s population has declined by an estimated 60% since the early 1900s.

Reindeer populations in Asia are also thought to be in decline, although exact numbers are not available.

The IUCN Red List lists the European wild reindeer as a species of “least concern” and the North American wild reindeer as “near threatened.” The Finnish forest reindeer is the rarest species and a threatened breed.

Population Threats

The primary threats to reindeer populations are habitat loss and hunting pressure. Habitat loss is a major problem in many areas where reindeer live. Reindeer depend on large tracts of land with little human disturbance to find the necessary food and shelter. However, as humans continue to develop and encroach on wild areas, reindeer habitat is increasingly being lost or degraded. The primary threat to reindeer habitat in Europe is forestry and other land-use activities. In North America, oil and gas exploration and development are major threats to reindeer herding. Hunting pressure is also a significant threat to reindeer populations in many areas. Although hunting of reindeer is regulated by law in many countries, illegal hunting still occurs and can significantly impact local populations.

Reindeer Facts

  • Reindeer is a member of the deer family, along with elk, moose, and caribou.
  • Reindeer are the only deer species that can tolerate prolonged cold weather.
  • Reindeer are well-adapted to life in the Arctic, with thick fur coats, large hooves, and a special nose that helps them to regulate their body temperature.
  • Both (reindeer) males and females grow antlers, which are shed each year and regrow the following year.
  • The world’s largest herd of wild reindeer is found in Norway. The herd contains about 150,000 animals.
  • Reindeer have much importance in American culture. In folklore, reindeer pull a sleigh through the night sky to assist Santa Claus in delivering presents to good children on Christmas Eve. 

Final Thoughts

Reindeer are an important part of the cultural heritage of many indigenous people and play a significant role in their economies and livelihoods. However, due to their threats, reindeer populations decline in many parts of the world. It is important to take steps to protect and conserve these iconic animals

Cody Mitchell
Cody Mitchell is a pet lover and a passionate pet writer. He has worked as a professional writer for over 6 years, with a focus on creating compelling content for pet-related brands. His work has been featured in major publications. When he's not writing, Cody can be found playing with his two dogs (a labradoodle and a cocker spaniel) or cuddling his cat.

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