Animal of the Week: The Reindeer
By Sara Umbrell, Layout Director
As the semester comes to a close and the holiday season rapidly approaches, it seemed fitting to wrap up the semester with an animal that many people know and love— the reindeer! The naming for this species is a little odd, since reindeer are also known as caribou, but depending on where you are in the world, what they’re called varies. For populations in Europe, they are known as reindeer and in North America they are known as caribou. But domestic reindeer in North America are called reindeer as well. There are two types of reindeer, forest and tundra. The former is much less numerous in populations, and the latter migrate between forest and tundra habitats depending on the season.
Unlike other deer we typically see (white-tailed are the most prevalent across the United States), male and female reindeer both grow antlers. Males use theirs to compete with other males for mates, so their antlers will usually be larger. Antlers grow in a cycle, and they drop off and grow new every year. Male antler growth begins in February, and females in May. November is when antlers begin to drop for males and the following spring for females, which would mean the famous Rudolph was actually a female!
As a majority of reindeer make their home in the tundra, they are specially adapted to the cold weather. They have fur completely covering their nose, which actually warms cold air before it’s inhaled. Young reindeer calves are particularly vulnerable to predator attacks, as they are the one of the weakest and easiest to take down. The average reindeer eats between nine and 18 pounds per day, with their diet consisting of mosses, herbs, ferns, grasses and various trees and shrubs.
Reindeer population is on the decline, especially as the tundra continues to be used as an oil drilling spot. Other factors contributing to their decline include poaching, logging and white-tailed deer. With the changing arctic and rising temperatures, white-tailed deer are starting to move further north, bringing with them a parasite fatal to moose and reindeer. Warmer summers only increase these worm and other insect populations, inhibiting the reindeers’ ability to forage for food. Hopefully things will change soon for these guys, with a good chance as their populations are around five million right now.