Fun Caribou Facts For Kids

Anusuya Mukherjee
Jan 31, 2023 By Anusuya Mukherjee
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Luca Demetriou
Fact-checked by Yashvee Patel
Read these Caribou facts and know more about this beautiful species.

Since time, these animals and their association to Santa's sleigh, have attracted a magical fascination surrounding their existence. You will be surprised to know that both Caribou and Reindeer animals have been classified as a single species Rangifer tarandus.

Caribou animals belong to the deer family wherein both the males and females of the species grow antlers. The long legs of Caribou help them move through snow quite easily.

While most species of these animals are present in adequate numbers, the woodland Caribou has been identified as endangered. The Caribou are found in the tundra region as well as in northern woodland regions of US and Canada.

Are you wondering what type of animal the Caribou is and want to learn more about the species, Rangifer tarandus? In that case, read along to learn some interesting facts about these mystifying groups of deer. You may also want to check out these Leopard Seal facts and Fennec Fox facts after this article.

Caribou Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a Caribou?

Caribou or rangifer tarandus is a variant of deer species. However, the reference associated with this member of the deer family largely depends on their geographical distribution. For instance, Rangifer tarandus in North America are regarded as reindeer when domesticated and Caribou when living in the wilderness.

What class of animal does a Caribou belong to?

Caribou belong to Class Mammalia; that is, organisms that are characterized by the presence of mammary glands for the nourishment of young ones. Rangifer tarandus share the family name Cervidae with other members such as brockets, pudu, deer, and elk.

The Inuit name for these animals is tuktu. Caribou belong to the deer family where both male and female animals grow antlers and are found in the tundra region.

How many Caribous are there in the world?

As per recent reports, there are over five million Caribous active in the wild. However, they may be subject to a vulnerable stage of extinction if humans continue to hunt them.

Caribous prefer living in herds and huge herds of these animals can be found in the Arctic tundra or North American woodland in Canada and US. They are normally found in regions where there is plenty of snow.

Where does a Caribou live?

Caribou belong to deer family (occurring at a wide range of longitudes, however only at higher latitudes). Herds of subspecies such as Rangifer tarandus caribou can be located as far as 46° North latitudes, while subspecies such as Svalbard reindeer can be found at 80° North latitudes along the northern hemisphere.

The Caribou species is an original inhabitant of regions like Scandinavia, Russia, Mongolia, and eastern Europe, Greenland.

Their herds are also found in Canada, from Washington to Maine,  northern China (north of the 50th latitude) around Arctic tundra. They prefer to live near their food sources such as plants and lichen.

What is a Caribou's habitat?

These mammals are the inhabitants of arctic, tundra, subarctic, boreal, forest, and mountainous regions. They prefer to live in herds and away from other animals and live amongst themselves.

As per recent studies, around 51 herds of Caribou are present in Canada but out of them around 20 herds are facing decline in the overall numbers. Some herds are shared by Canada and Alaska.

Even during winters, Caribou prefer less sheltered areas as the wind sweeps away the snow, making it easier for them to reach plants and lichen, which are their primary food source.

The cloven hooves also enable the Caribou to walk quite easily in deep snow. During the winters, they use their hooves to dig through the snow and access lichen and other food sources.

Who do Caribous live with?

Caribou or rangifer tarandus is a social mammal and is observed to socalise, particularly during the summer months. In Canada, they travel in large herds with their numbers as much as tens of thousands.

Movement in herds proves to be quite advantageous for Caribou. It is known to provide some solace from pestering warble flies, nose bot flies, and mosquitoes. In contrast to the traveling progression of summer, in cooler weather, the cluster of Rangifer tarandus slump, and are reduced to as little as 10 members per herd.

How long does a Caribou live?

The average lifespan of the Caribou ranges between 12-15 years in the wild. In contrast to their male counterparts, the female Caribou have a longer lifespan (over 15 years), whereas the expectancy of males ranges between 5-10 years.

Their lifespan also depends on how easily and frequently they are able to access their favorite food, which are plants and lichen.

How do they reproduce?

The breeding season for rangifer tarandus extends from October to November, also known as the fall rut. During this time, the male members of the species compete in fights to lay claims on their female peers.

The dominant male, then adopting polygynous breeding procedures, gets access to a small herd of about 5-15 females for mating. Preparing for this annual mating event, the male Caribou are observed brushing away the velvet from their antlers.

Following the fusion of male and female gametes, the gestation period in Rangifer tarandus ranges between 228-234 days.

The females of the species often move to a common calving ground, abandoning the herds. Following gestation, generally, one offspring per female Caribou is born; there are rare reports of twins being born to a Caribou.

What is their conservation status?

The Caribou includes quite a number of subspecies categorized under their name. With a total population of about five million, these members of the Cervidae Family are listed as Least concerned by IUCN.

However, a number of subspecies are found to be vulnerable such as woodland Caribou.

Though, availability of food is a major cause of migration amongst Caribou as they need to feed regularly to maintain themselves in cold weather conditions. Moreover, the hunting of the woodland Caribou by northern indigenous people is another reason behind their reducing numbers.

Caribou Fun Facts

What do Caribous look like?

Caribous exhibit a large variation in terms of size, though generally, the subspecies of the southern latitudes are larger than their northern relatives.

These animals possess hairy fur, which works primarily in the direction of instilling insulation and therefore is found covering the entire length of their bodies. The coat of Rangifer tarandus is double-layered, with an inner undercoat of dense, soft, and fine wool stationed right next to their epidermis and an outer layer of long, hollow, and tapered hair.

They range in color from white, light beige color to tones of dark brown with a tinge of white patches on their breast, belly, areas near hooves and neck.

The hooves of the Caribous species are broad, concave, and padded. The antlers are the defining characteristics of these animals.

In resemblance to the branches of a tree, the crown of Rangifer tarandus also possesses numerous tines or antler branches arising from the frontal bones of their skull.

How cute are they?

With their fascinating appearance and majestic antlers, the Rangifer tarandus is a stunning sight to set eyes on.

How do they communicate?

The members of Rangifer tarandus use a combination of optical, chemical, tactile, and vocal cues to communicate with their kind. These animals additionally possess astute olfaction, which helps them to hunt food buried deep in the crusted snow. Females actively defend their food sources while nursing their calves.

How big is a Caribou?

The size of an adult Caribou is highly variable and ranges between 64–84 in size. Rangifer tarandus are a group of deer that can grow well over six feet long; that is twice the size of an average red fox and twin-sized beds.

How fast can a Caribou move?

Adult Caribou are known to move at a maximum speed of 50 mph or 80 km/h. They have a massive build that allows them to sprint and even fight other predators. This allows them to cover around 20-34 miles during migration.  

How much does a Caribou  weigh?

The weight of Rangifer tarandus ranges between 180–401 lb. Male members are larger than their female counterparts. Exceptionally, some reindeers have been reported to weigh as much as 701 lb; that is twice the size of an average ostrich.

What are their male and female names of the species?

Male members of Caribou are often referred to as bulls while the females are referred to as cows or simply female Caribou.

What would you call a baby Caribou?

The infants of Rangifer tarandus are often referred to as a calf or fawn.

What do they eat?

Rangifer tarandus are herbivores; that is, these organisms survive on plants and their products. The favorite diet of these mammals includes plants like Cladonia rangiferina (a lichen variety), willow leaves, cotton grass, ground-dwelling vegetation, mushrooms, birch leaves, and sedges.

Their hooves are designed in a way that allows them to scoop through snow and access lichen. Though there are various lichen varieties that are eaten by Caribou, but their favorite is the reindeer lichen. Massive annual migrations are undertaken during the summers by Caribou to access new food sources.

Are they dangerous?

It is observed that a female Caribou is comparatively less aggressive than a male Caribou. Females usually like to live in a large herd and males tend to display aggression when they are surrounded by other Caribous.

So, a male Caribou can prove dangerous as they can get aggressive at any given point and are quite unpredictable. Their powerful hooves are known to deal a deadly blow if these creatures sense any danger.

Would they make a good pet?

Caribou are known to be reared and raised on a number of farms. These animals, when brought up under proper domestication and training, can easily adapt to live amongst the human population.  

Did you know...

Rangifer tarandus happens to be the only recognized group of mammals on earth with the ability to visually detect UV radiations.

Caribou are the only known members of the Cervidae family to possess Antlers regardless of the sex; Antlers in these species are found to be adorned by both male as well as female members.

The Rangifer tarandus are known to be great travelers. According to reports, these are the only terrestrial mammals to journey over 3,000 miles a year.

What is the difference between caribou and reindeer?

There is often certain skepticism over Caribou and reindeer species, and it is usually difficult to compare a reindeer vs a Caribou. Both these organisms come from a common lineage.

Both Caribou, as well as reindeer share the same genus (Rangifer) and species (Tarandus). However, a number of variations can be spotted in their physical anatomy that separates the Caribou. For instance, the Caribou are usually larger, while reindeer are short and wide with thicker coats.

The concentration of Reindeers is found to be higher in the northern hemisphere. In contrast, Caribou are the prominent residents of the southern hemisphere.

Can you eat caribou?

The top predator of the Caribou is humankind. Besides poaching the Caribou for their products such as hide and fur, this species of deer are pursued their meat as well.

In fact, the meat of Caribou is one of the staple foods of the North. The meat of these animals is quite nutritious. Frozen, aged, roasted, dried, or steak are some of the ways to eat the meat of these animals.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other mammals including Elk, or plains zebra.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our Caribou coloring pages.

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Written by Anusuya Mukherjee

Bachelor of Arts and Law specializing in Political Science and Intellectual Property Rights

Anusuya Mukherjee picture

Anusuya MukherjeeBachelor of Arts and Law specializing in Political Science and Intellectual Property Rights

With a wealth of international experience spanning Europe, Africa, North America, and the Middle East, Anusuya brings a unique perspective to her work as a Content Assistant and Content Updating Coordinator. She holds a law degree from India and has practiced law in India and Kuwait. Anusuya is a fan of rap music and enjoys a good cup of coffee in her free time. Currently, she is working on her novel, "Mr. Ivory Merchant".

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Fact-checked by Yashvee Patel

Bachelor of Business Management

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Yashvee PatelBachelor of Business Management

Yashvee has won awards for both her writing and badminton skills. She holds a business administration honors degree and has previously interned with social media clients and worked on content for an international student festival. Yashvee has excelled in academic competitions, ranking in the top 100 in the Unified International English Olympiad and placing second in an essay-writing competition. Additionally, she has won the inter-school singles badminton title for two consecutive years.

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