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Reindeer - Species Detail
Reno (Sp), Ren (G), Renne (F). This species is called reindeer in Asia and Europe, caribou in North America. It is a member of the subfamily Odocoileinae and, in company with the New World deer, the tribe Odocoileini. "Reindeer" is probably from the Old Swedish ren for this animal. The scientific name is from the Old French rangier (reindeer), the Latin ferus (wild or untamed), and the Latin tarandrus (northland animal).
DESCRIPTION (male) Shoulder height up to 47 inches (120 cm). Weight up to 550 pounds (150 kg). Females are about 25 percent smaller.
The reindeer of Eurasia is slightly smaller than the North American caribou. This species has the most antler growth in comparison to body size of any antlered animal, and is unique in the deer family in that antlers are grown by both sexes. Older males cast their antlers in December and young males drop them toward spring, but females usually retain theirs until early summer. Bulls often have one brow tine that is palmated vertically over the face as a "shovel," and occasionally the brow tines on both antlers will be palmate ("double shovel"). Palmation also may occur on the bez and top tines. Palms typically have points growing from their edges. There usually is a back tine halfway up the antler. Antlers of females are small and spindly. The reindeer has a broad muzzle, a throat mane and a short tail. The hoofs are wide and deeply cleft for walking on soft ground and snow. When walking, a reindeer makes a clicking sound caused by a tendon slipping over a bone in the foot. The coat consists of a heavy undercoat for protection against cold, and this is covered by straight, tubular guard hairs that contain air cells. Most individuals are dark grayish-brown in summer, changing to pale gray in winter-sometimes nearly white in the far north. Domesticated reindeer are small and highly variable in color.
BEHAVIOR Highly gregarious, with females and young forming large herds. Mature males are solitary or in small groups, joining the herds during the late September-October rut and attempting to gather harems. Calves-usually one-are born in May. Mainly diurnal, feeding on whatever is available, but in winter they concentrate on lichens. Eyesight is poor, hearing fair, sense of smell very good. Not particularly wary. Not an especially fast runner, but has great endurance. Fast swimmer, floating high in the water because of its hollow hair. Principal enemy is the wolf, the only predator able to run down an adult reindeer in a long chase.
HABITAT Tundra, mountain heath and taiga forest.
DISTRIBUTION Siberia, from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, and extending into extreme northern Mongolia and Manchuria.
Wild reindeer also occur in northern Europe and in the northern parts of North America (where they are called caribou). They have been introduced in Iceland.
Domesticated and semi-domesticated reindeer are found in Siberia, Norway, Sweden and Finland, and have been introduced in Scotland, Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Argentina, Chile, and the southern oceanic islands of South Georgia and Kerguelen.
TAXONOMIC NOTES Scientists recognize one species of reindeer or caribou worldwide, but opinions differ as to the number of subspecies. Flerov (1952) listed seven in Eurasia, these being European reindeer (R. t. tarandus, including fennicus), Novaya Zemlya reindeer (R. t. pearsoni), Siberian tundra reindeer (R. t. sibiricus), Siberian forest reindeer (R. t. valentinae), Okhotsk reindeer (R. t. phylarchus), Bargusin reindeer (R. t. angustirostris) and Spitzbergen reindeer (R. t. platyrhynchus). Ellerman & Morrison-Scott (1951) suggested eight subspecies in Eurasia, listing Flerov's seven plus R. t. setoni from Sakhalin Island. Heptner, Nasimovich & Bannikov (1961) tentatively recognized five subspecies in the Soviet Union, accepting Flerov's names except for angustirostris, which they considered a synonym for valentinae. Banfield, in his 1961 reorganization of the world's reindeer and caribou, reduced the number of Eurasian subspecies to three, and this has been followed by Whitehead (1972) and Corbet (1978). His three subspecies are Eurasian tundra reindeer (R. t. tarandus, including sibiricus), from Norway, Sweden, Finland and eastward across Russia and Siberia in the tundra zone north of about latitude 65°N; Eurasian forest reindeer (R. t. fennicus, including valentinae, angustirostris, phylarchus and setoni), from the forest zone to the south of the tundra in Russia and Siberia and extending into extreme northern Mongolia and Manchuria; and Spitzbergen reindeer (R. t. platyrhynchus), a small race from Svalbard. Given the lack of consensus, we do not separate any subspecies.
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