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Animal Facts: Caribou

  • Jun 06, 2019
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Caribou are ungulates, which means they have cloven hooves and chew cud. The caribou has a short, stocky body that conserves heat, but its legs are long to help it move through the deep snow. Its winter coat provides insulation from the cold, and its muzzle and tail are short and covered in hair.

The caribou’s hooves are large and hollowed out. These make a handy tool for scooping up lichen, an important food source, that’s under snow. Although caribou can withstand the cold temperatures and harsh terrain of the Arctic tundra, they have a tough time coping with insects in the summer. They have been known to run for kilometres just to escape the hordes of pesky bugs!

The caribou is the only member of the deer family where both males and females grow antlers. The antlers of the female are smaller than those of the male, but they are carried for a longer period of time. Male caribou shed their antlers in November or December, after mating. Females will often carry theirs until June, after they have given birth, to help them defend food sources while nursing their calves.

Caribou live all across Canada and are present in the northern regions of all the provinces, except Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. But even with such a large range, these animals are in danger. Recent studies show that of the 51 herds that live in Canada, at least 20 are in decline. Not a single one is growing.

Fast Facts: Caribou

Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus 

Average weight: 55 kilograms to 318 kilograms

Average lifespan: 10 to 15 years

Antler Antics

Unlike other members of the deer family, both male and female caribou sport antlers for part of the year.

Either/Or

“Reindeer” is the name given to caribou in Scandinavia and Russia, but reindeer and caribou are actually the same species, rangifer tarandus.

Extended Family

There are several subspecies of caribou. The largest is the woodland caribou, found in the boreal forest across Canada. The smallest is the Peary caribou, found only on the islands of the Canadian Arctic archipelago.

Did you know?

Caribou have scent glands at the base of their ankles. When an animal senses danger, it will rear up on its hind legs to release a scent that alerts the other caribou.

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