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Known as and called reindeer in Eurasia, the caribou (Rangifer tarandus) is a charismatic and hardy species that inhabits the northern reaches of the planet. While the caribou may occur as a number of different subspecies throughout its range, all are superbly adapted to a life in the extreme conditions of the north. The caribou’s coat is made up of a thick, woolly under layer, and an overcoat of stiff, tubular hairs which trap a layer of insulating air. Although the colour of the coat can vary with location from almost black to pure white, it is generally brown to grey on the upperparts, and pale to white on the underparts, inner legs and rump. The face is typically dark, and the male caribou develops a mane of long, lighter coloured hairs along the underside of its neck. During the winter months, the coat of the caribou tends to be paler. The ears of the caribou are relatively short and rounded, and the tail is short and furry. Inside the long muzzle there is a large surface area over which incoming air can be warmed, and moisture can be extracted from exhaled air to conserve water. Another of the caribou’s superb adaptations is its large, flat hooves, which act as snow shoes in the winter, and provide stability over soft ground during the summer. During autumn and winter, the hooves harden and develop sharp edges which is useful for breaking through snow and ice when searching for food. Hair between the toes of the hooves prevents snow from clogging them up. A striking feature of the reindeer is the long, sweeping antlers that are re-grown each year. These vary greatly in shape between caribou, but generally curve back and then forwards from the head, with a forward-projecting section which may be shovel-like in appearance. Unlike horns which grow from the base, antlers grow from the tip, rather like the branch of a tree. Caribou are the only deer species where both the male and the female possess antlers, although the antlers of the female are much smaller and simpler. The female caribou also tends to be smaller and more slender than the male. Unlike many other deer species, the coat of a young caribou lacks spots when it is born. A variety of vocalisations are produced by the caribou, including the snort given by an adult when alarmed, the bawling cries of a young caribou and the roars made the adult male caribou during the breeding season.

Reindeer Subspecies



See Also