All About Reindeer: Habitat, Diet, & Facts

Written by Santa's Quarters™


Not many people know that reindeer and caribou are the same animals. Both are classified as Rangifer tarandus and as mammalia in the order Artiodactyla and the genus Cervidae. Europeans call this animal a reindeer, while people who live in North America call the Rangifer tarandus caribou! Some people in North America think that reindeer are mythical creatures because of their association with Santa Claus and Christmas, but that's not true.

One thing that makes reindeer stand out is their fantastic antlers. They are longer and heavier than any other species of deer. A male reindeer's antlers can be up to 51 inches long, while female reindeer grow antlers up to 20 inches low. Reindeer antlers grow like trees. There's a central trunk and then branches or limbs. Reindeers lose their antlers and regrow them each year. It's said that reindeer are in velvet while growing new antlers because soft fur covers the new antlers as they grow. Males lose their antlers around November, while females lose theirs in May.

Reindeer Fur

Reindeer are native to icy climates and are good at keeping themselves warm! They stay warm because their entire body is covered in hair, which helps hold their body heat. They come in various colors and usually change from a darker shade during the summer to a lighter color in the winter. They have two coats of hair. There's a soft layer of wool next to their skin and then a top layer of long hairs that trap body heat and protect the animal from the wind. Since these hairs are hollow, it makes it easier for the reindeer to swim!

What do Reindeer Eat?

Reindeer live to eat! They enjoy herbs, mosses, grasses, ferns, and the shoots and leaves of trees and bushes. Birch trees are delicious to reindeer! During the winter, they live off of lichen and fungi. Their stomachs can break down the lichen. A fully grown reindeer eats between ten and twenty pounds of vegetation daily! Reindeer that live in zoos typically get high-fiber biscuits, hay, and acacia.

Reindeer Habitats

There are reindeer and caribou in Europe, the Artic, Asia, and North America. It's why their bodies are perfect for cold weather. Unlike other types of deer, reindeer are domesticated and live on farms in colder countries. They are farmed for milk and meat and antler velvet.

A Reindeer's Life Span

Reindeer live about eighteen years. They usually are born as singletons but sometimes arrive as twins. Typically, a reindeer weighs up to twenty pounds at birth after a little less than eight months of pregnancy. Males take six years to reach their full size, while females take about four years.

Family Life

Reindeer like travel in a pack. Their herds can be as small as ten reindeer or as big as a couple of hundred. At certain times of the year, reindeer herds combine to make super herds that can include as many as half a million reindeer! They communicate with each other by snorting or grunting. Calves call to their mother by making bleating noises. When females become pregnant, they leave their herd to travel to a traditional birthing place. Newborns stand up for the first time about an hour after birth!


There are about five million reindeer worldwide. A large percentage are the caribou who live in Alaska. Overhunting, particularly in areas like Russia, is a significant threat to the survival of some herds. Another big threat is climate change. Rising temperatures are changing habitats for reindeer and other species of deer, putting them all in competition for food and resources. The warmer weather also means more insects, which bother some reindeer and make it harder for them to put on enough weight to survive the winter.

Fun Facts

  • Reindeer travel a lot to find enough food, but it depends on where they are and how far they need to travel to find food. Some travel as much as 750 miles twice a year to find food!

  • Reindeer are very fast. They can run up to fifty miles per hour and can swim up to six miles per hour.

  • Reindeer make a distinctive clicking sound when they walk.

Reindeer Research Resources

General Animal Research Resources