Reindeer are large deer, native to subarctic and
arctic regions of northern Europe and Asia.
They are related to North American caribou, as
both are variants of the species Rangifer tarandus.
Reindeer can be domesticated and have long been
valuable possessions of humans in those regions of
the world. They yield meat, cheese, butter, clothes,
and draft animals able to carry heavy burdens.
Many Eurasian reindeer still run wild and are
trapped for domestication. Whether wild or domesticated,
reindeer are herbivores, eating only
plants. Their diet is grass, moss, leaves, twigs, and
lichens. They often obtain food by scraping snow
cover with their antlers and hooves. Reindeer are
diurnal, meaning that they are active only during
the day. They spend most of their time seeking
food. Their preferred habitats are barren, open
plains (tundra), forests, grasslands,andmountains.
Physical Characteristics of Reindeer
Reindeer differ from most deer in having large, deeply cleft hooves, hairy muzzles to help to keep them warm, and antlers on both males and females. Reindeer have long bodies and legs. Their hooves are broad, to provide footing on snow and ice. Male reindeer are four feet tall at shoulder height and weigh up to six hundred pounds. Females are shorter but reach similar maximum weights. Both genders grow up to seven feet long. Their thick, waterproof fur is brown in summer and gray-brown in winter. White fur covers their rumps, tails, and the lower portions of their legs. Males have white neck manes during mating season. Reindeer do not see well, but they have an excellent sense of smell. Reindeer antlers have pointed branches (points). In females, they grow to two-foot lengths, while males' antlers reach five-foot lengths. Very large male antlers have forty points. Those of females only have a few points. As in other deer, reindeer antlers are shed and regrown each year. Males lose their antlers in winter and females lose their antlers in late spring. The antlers that grow back are larger than those replaced. Antlers are important during mating season, when males fight for mates. Fights can damage antlers, so if they were not shed and regrown each year, many males would be unable to fight well, lose fights, and be unable to mate. Reindeer are also ruminants, animals that chew and swallow their food more than once. After a little while, food that was swallowed reenters the ruminant mouth from the stomach. Reindeer and other ruminants chew the food, swallow it again, and the food enters a different stomach for additional digestion. The process, also called cud chewing, helps reindeer to get maximum amounts of nutrients and vitamins from their difficult-to-digest food. Reindeer are social animals. They live in groups of about 20 most of the year. The groups consist of a male, his mates, and their young. Reindeer migrate great distances each fall and spring to feeding and mating grounds, travelling in herds of up to 100,000 and migrating about twenty miles per day. Reindeer mate mostly in October. Gestation is about eight months long. The female leaves the herd to give birth to one calf, in May or June. The calf weighs up to twenty pounds. Mother and calf then rejoin the herd and the calf nurses for six months.Acalf can mate when three years old. The life span of reindeer is up to fifteen years.
North American Reindeer Imports
Reindeer are excellent sources of food, clothes, and draft animals, as the Laplanders of Finland food source for the Inuit of Alaska, who live in a comparable environment with a similar social structure, the U.S. Office of Education imported thirteen hundred reindeer from Siberia near the end of the nineteenth century. Several million reindeer are now found throughout Alaska. In 1935, the Canadian government set up a herd of reindeer in the Yukon Territory to benefit Native Americans and Inuit. This herd also flourished and Native Americans and Inuitnowownall reindeer herds in North America. The deer satisfy many of their basic needs, becoming a valuable North American resource.
Family: Cervidae (deer)
Genus and species: Rangifer tarandus (reindeer and caribou)
Geographical location: Northern Europe, Asia, Canada, and Alaska
Habitat: Open plains (tundra), forests, grasslands, and mountainous areas
Gestational period: Eight months
Life span: Twelve to fifteen years
Special anatomy: Antlers, ruminant stomach
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