Reindeer may be famous for being Santa Claus’ magical Christmas Eve helpers, but they are amazing even outside of children’s stories. These majestic creatures are capable of surviving in largely uninhabitable areas that would kill some species. Reindeer are skillful foragers, great swimmers and are even kept by humans for milk and labor.
Reindeer are hooved, herbivorous mammals with large antlers atop their heads. Caribou and Reindeer are the only deer species in which both male (buck) and female (doe) specimens have antlers, though the male’s antlers are noticeably larger than the females. Reindeer can grow to be up to four feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh around 550 pounds. They have long fur, which is a brownish color in the Summer and a whitish color in the Winter.
Reindeer live in some of the coldest places on Earth. They are found in Greenland, Russia, Scandinavia, Canada, Alaska and even the Arctic Tundra. There are two types of Reindeer. There are the Tundra Reindeer and the Forest Reindeer. The difference between the two is really described by their names. There are other subtle differences, but location and the size of migratory herds are the most noticeable. Forest Reindeer migrate in smaller herds than Tundra Reindeer.
The Reindeer mating ritual happens in October. Forest Reindeer bucks will fight each other for a doe’s affection by locking antlers until one of them defers. Tundra Reindeer also display this behavior, but not as often as the Forest Reindeer. Pregnant Reindeer females gestate through the Winter and usually give birth to one calf in May or June.
Reindeer eat leaves, shoots, moss and grass during the Summer. They also eat mushrooms, when they are available, in the late Summer and in the Fall. During the Winter, Reindeer have to work hard for their food by digging deep in the snow to get to the Reindeer Moss that is their primary source of food at this time. Reindeer are ruminating mammals, meaning they chew very slowly and repeatedly, much like cows.
Reindeer live mostly in small herds, especially the does. During migration they form much larger herds. In Autumn, these animals migrate south and in the Spring they migrate north again. Migratory herds of Tundra Reindeer can have up to 500,000 individuals in them. Reindeer spend a lot of their lives moving around. Reindeer can rarely stay in one place for very long.
Reindeer, retrieved 6/17/09, brittanica.com/EBchecked/topic/496558/reindeer
Reindeer, retrieved 6/17/09, encyclopedia.com/topic/reindeer.aspx