Species of the month
Reindeer & Caribou
Some facts about this mammal:
Body length: ♂ 180–214 cm, ♀ 162–205 cm.
Tail length: 14–20 cm.
Weight: ♂ 160–200 kg, ♀ 80–120 kg.
Habitat: Tundra and open taiga forest.
Distribution: Holarctic, mainly north of 58°N (locally south to 48°N), to the limits of land at 83°N.
Diet: Chiefly feeds on lichens, occasionally on grass and other herbs, and fungi.
Surviving number: Several million.
Conservation status: Least Concern; some subspecies threatened, one extinct.
First described: By Carolus Linnaeus in 1758, originally named as Cervus tarandus.
Rangifer tarandus is a keystone species in arctic and subarctic regions right round the far north of the globe, and the most abundant large mammal of this region. It is unusual among deer in that both sexes have antlers, thought to be an adaptation to winter snow, where the antlers are used to break through the snow crust to gain access to buried food. Wild herds still range widely, but the species is also farmed in many regions, notably in northern Scandinavia and parts of Russia and Mongolia. The farmed herds retain a large part of their natural behaviour, including migration routes, with the attendant herders travelling with their herds.
As expected for such a large range, the species is divided into many subspecies; 14 are currently accepted by Mammal Species of the World. Those in Europe and Asia are known in English as Reindeer, and those in North America as Caribou. Ecologically, the main differences within the species correlate more with habitat and latitude than continent, with two main groups, one in the arctic tundra, the other in subarctic taiga forests. Intergradation between the two is however extensive.
Evidence for a an additional type of Reindeer rudolphi, distinguished by a red nose, has often been claimed (and even illustrated), but hard scientific evidence for its existence is lacking. Reports typically associate it with sledge transport & goods delivery systems in late December.
See also: Species of previous months