Caribou vs deer: 4 main differences


You’ve probably heard of deer as a child and caribou as an adult. Reindeer are usually spoken of in cold weather, and caribou are usually spoken of in the United States. Indeed, these two species of deer of the family Cervidae look very similar, almost identical.

So what makes them different from each other? You will find that deer live in Asia and Europe, and caribou in North America. At some point, they split up to develop in different geographic and climatic conditions. As you may have guessed, these are subspecies of the same animal. We’ll show more of the differences between the two below!

Comparison of caribou and reindeer

Reindeer Caribou
Geography Asia and Europe North America
Taxonomy Rangifer tarandus Subspecies Rangifer tarandus caribou
Herd migration? No Yes
Home? May be wild or domesticated Not at all
Horns Sharp, pointed horns High curved horns

4 main differences between caribou and reindeer

  • Geography: There are 14 subspecies of reindeer or 9 subspecies with variations, including 2 extinct subspecies. 7 subspecies are collectively named caribou. The different geographical distribution of the reindeer subspecies determines its name: reindeer or caribou. Typically, reindeer live in cold, snowy climates, while caribou live in temperate climates, although they have similar diets.
  • Herd migration: Geography and climate also matter when it comes to the behavior of these members of the deer family. This is also how domestication works. As a result, caribou continue to migrate en masse; in fact, they have the longest migrations of any land mammal. They move between breeding and wintering grounds thousands of miles each year. On the other hand, reindeer have settled in Asia and Northern Europe and have adapted to the harsh, cold weather there. Their adaptation, followed by the domestication of humans, meant that they no longer felt the urge to migrate. Wild reindeer still exist in Greenland, Norway and Russia.
  • Home? People have domesticated many herds of reindeer to be used to transport meat, milk, hides and antlers. Caribou have never been tamed. This difference also led to more subtle differences in appearance. Consequently, deer are shorter and stockier.
  • Horns: The antlers of these members of the deer family are similar in that they are large and periodically covered with velvet after molting. However, they look slightly different when comparing domesticated deer to the deer of their wild counterparts. The antlers of the caribou are tall and curved, with a more spreading or random pattern, while the antlers of the reindeer are sharp and pointed, with a straighter or more uniform appearance.

Next: Caribou Migration: What Is It And Why Do They Do It?

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the difference between caribou and reindeer?

The difference is mainly in geography. Caribou are found in North America, while deer are found in Asia and Europe. In addition, the men worked with the deer so that they were transport animals, meat, milk, hides and antlers. As a result, caribou are larger and more elk-like than wild reindeer.

Why is caribou called a reindeer?

Reindeer in North America, where they are wild and have never been tamed, are called caribou.

Are wild deer called caribou?

In North America, yes. Deer can be wild or domesticated, but caribou have always been wild.

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