Reindeer Fact File

Rangifer tarandus

Credit: Public Domain








Wild 10-15 years

Captive 10-15 years



Grass, Lichen

Conservation Status



The reindeer is best known for pulling Santa's sleigh each Christmas. While this is a myth the animal is real. In some parts of their range they may be known by the alternative name of caribou.

They are herbivores which will feed on grasses, lichen and fungi.

Males use their large antlers to fight prior to the breeding season during a period known as the rut. The winner gains mating rights with nearby females.

In some areas of their range they continue to be threatened by hunting along with habitat loss and climate change.

Read on to learn more about these magical mammals.


What does the reindeer look like?

The reindeer (also known as the caribou) has a wide range across North America, Asia and Europe which leads to high variability in their appearance. Those in the colder, northern regions are lighter in color while those in America tend to be brown with dark legs. Asian and European reindeer are typically greyer than brown.

Most of the darker colored individuals have a patch of white fur above the hooves and along the neck and belly.

Reindeers have lightweight fur which is highly effective at trapping heat against their body.

Both males and females sport a pair of large antlers which they shed and regrow each year. Females tend to have smaller antlers than the males. While the antlers grow they have a velvety cover which is shed once the antlers are fully grown. Their antlers may grow up to 1.2m (3.9ft) tall.

Part of the antler is shaped like a paddle and used to scrape away ice and snow.

Males antlers are dropped in November while the females will retain their antlers until May next year once they have calved.

Their hooves are broad and flat which helps to provide stability on the soft ground in summer. During winter these have become harder with a sharper edge that helps to cut through snow and ice.

The nose of a reindeer is covered with hair which helps to warm the cold air of their environment before it enters the lungs.

At the end of the body is a tail which measures 10-25cm (4-10in) long.

Reindeers have a body length of between 1.2 and 2.2m (4-7.25ft) long. An average weight for a reindeer is between 120 and 300kg (265-660lbs). At the shoulder they stand 1.4m (4.6ft) tall.

Males are typically larger than females. Those which live in the North also tend to be smaller than those in the south.


What does the reindeer eat?

Reindeers are herbivores. They feed mostly on grasses in summer while relying on lichen and fungi in winter. These main food sources are supplemented with grasses, sedges, leaves, lichen and mosses.

Each reindeer requires between 4-8kg (9-18lbs) of food each day.

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)

Credit: Public Domain


Where can you find the reindeer?

Reindeer have a wide range across the northern areas of North America, Asia and Europe. Here they can be found throughout the following countries – Canada, Finland, Greenland, Mongolia, Norway, Russia and the United States.

Introduced populations of this species exist in the Falkland Islands, Iceland, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.


What kind of environment does the reindeer live in?

They make their home in a range of habitats including tundra, boreal forests, coastal plains, mountain ranges and coniferous forest.

Reindeer are almost constantly on the move and may travel as much as 5,000km (3,000 miles) each year. This is the greatest distance travelled by any land-based mammal.

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How does the reindeer produce its young?

The breeding season begins in August and September when the male reindeers lose the velvet on their antlers following which they begin to sparr for mating rights with the female.

Following a successful mating the female will give birth to a single calf following a gestation period of 210-240 days. Twins are possible but are a rare occurrence. Newborns are suckling within minutes of birth and begin to follow their mother within hours.

These calves are born around May or June. The calf will only suckle for a couple of months and starts to graze shortly after birth.

Females may be sexually mature as early as 1.5 years old. Males typically won’t breed until four years old when they have the bulk needed to compete with other males for breeding rights.


What does the reindeer do with its day?

Reindeer can run at speeds of up to 80km/h (50mph).

Occasionally this species may enter the water. One layer of their coat is made up of hollow hairs which can provide buoyancy in the water.

They are one of the few species which are able to see ultraviolet light and this allows them to locate their food in snow covered areas on dark wintery days. Their sense of smell is also incredibly good helping them to find food under the snow.

Herds of reindeer form which may number up to half a million individuals.

Reindeer communicate using snorts, grunts and hoarse calls while calves will communicate with their mother using a bleat.

In some subspecies the knees of a reindeer will make an audible click. It is thought this is an adaptation which allows them to find one another during blizzard conditions.

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the reindeer?

Natural predators of the reindeer include grizzly and black bears, golden eagles, mountain lions, coyote, along with grey wolves. Calves also fall victim to lynx. Most of the animals which fall prey to predators are elderly or ill.

Reindeer farming is a common practice in many parts of their range. In some areas they are farmed for milk to turn in to cheese and yoghurt. They are also used for meat. Others make use of the reindeer as a pack animal to pull sleds or carry goods. In some areas they are also ridden.

Humans impact their population through hunting, habitat destruction and climate change.

Quick facts

Reindeer are also commonly called caribou. The inuit people know them as tuku.

Santa is said to be pulled around the world each Christmas by a group of reindeer. This comes from a poem published in 1823.

The reindeer is a popular animal in heraldry and many Nordic countries use them in their coat of arms.

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)

Credit: Public Domain


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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 22, 2020 at

Augustyn, A., 2020. Reindeer | Habitat, Diet, & Facts. [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 December 2020]. 2020. Reindeer | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 22 December 2020].

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2020. Fun Facts About Reindeer And Caribou. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 22 December 2020].

DK Find Out!. 2020. DK Find Out! | Fun Facts For Kids On Animals, Earth, History And More!. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 22 December 2020]. 2020. Toronto Zoo | Animals. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 22 December 2020]. 2020. Reindeer – Dudley Zoo And Castle. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 22 December 2020].

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