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Michael Rielly
Michael Rielly

Rangifer Taranadus

Reindeer - Rangifer Taranadus Taranadus (R.T. Taranadus)

They are cervids from the root group Rangifer Taranadus that included ten species of Reindeer and Caribou. Two of these species are extinct and several of the Caribou such as the North American Woodland Caribou are currently on the watch list for species at risk. REINDEER ARE NOT CARIBOU! although they are cousins.

Of the ten species of Rangifer Taranadus, generally three types inhabit continental North America. Two of these are native being the Woodland Caribou and the Barren Ground Caribou. The third is the Eurasian Tundra Reindeer that was introduced by the government to the North American continent in the late 1800's to replace lifestyle losses to the Inuit people of the North. The original influx of Reindeer were brought into North America across the Land Bridge from the USSR. Slightly more than 400 head made up the original group of animals that were walked into the North as part of this project. Reindeer in North America can be DNA matched to the original herd thereby confirming that they are in fact reindeer.

While there are many reindeer in the North that live under feral conditions, there are no wild reindeer. Reindeer are acknowledged to be one of, if not the oldest, domesticated animals in the world with history of domestication tracing back between 5000 and 8000 years (depending on the source) They are listed in the Lesser Nine of the fifteen domesticated animals along with camels, llamas, alpacas and elephants. They were once referred to as the "First Meat of Man" and the animals is unique in that both in life and death, the animal is completely useful. As a live animals they provide transportation, haulage, velvet antler for medicines, and milk to name a few. In death, they provide meat, hides for clothing along with products that can be made from the bone and antler.

Adult Male reindeer will weigh in at approximately 500 lbs while females top out around 400 lbs. On average they will stand between 8 and 10 hands high (1 Hand = 4 Inches) Both the male and Female produce antlers and they along with the caribou are the only cervid that does this. Antlers regrow each year with the previous years antler being shed from Late November through early May depending on a variety of factors. Male reindeer that are intact breeders will drop the antler anytime after breeding season once their need to establish dominance and attract females has passed. Once the antler has been shed the dominant male will usually become the most subservient member of the herd until the breeding cycle begins again the following year. Steers will usually keep their antlers longer into the New Year but not as long as the females. Bred females usually retain their antlers until the babies are born ensuring them preference to the best feed and leaving them with a level of defense. Antlers will begin to regenerate almost immediately but generally show a growth phase that lasts approximately 4 months. Antlers will grow at a rate of anywhere from 1/2" per day to 1 1/2" per day. Remember that the growth the you see on an animal ALL grew this year.

Antlers, while in the growth phase are live tissue and are soft (think Fingernails). They look much like a padded coat hanger and are susceptible to injury. Significant injury to growing antler can result in death from hemorrhage if not attended to. Antlers are never the same but may have a general consistency of style from animal to animal they are rarely symmetrical. The antler grows from pedicules in the skull that firmly anchor the antler until its time to shed. Antlers can be broken or fall off prematurely but there is no real way to determine when and antler will fall. In feral conditions the reindeer along with other animals will normally eat the antler to recapture lost mineral.

What is the difference between Antlers and Horns?

Generally Antlers are annual ornaments while horns are permanent. Antlers grow from the tip and an injury to the antler at the tip, or involving the tip, may stop all growth for that season. Horns are permanent and not shed each year. They also grow from the base therefore an injury to the end of the horn, or removal such as blunting as used on rodeo bulls, does not affect growth.

While there is often a visual difference between the structure and weight of antlers between male and female, that doesn't always prove to be true. Some sources say that only the males will grow a shovel which is a significant protrusion of flat antler off one branch pointing forward. The animals use this to break into heavy crusted snow when foraging for food.

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very interesting - thank you for sharing

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Posted (edited)

It is important to differentiate between species and subspecies just as we find in tigers (Panthera tigris) and dogs (Canis lupis), the same is with Reindeer (Rangifer taranadus).  This distinction is important because it means that genetically those animals within a species can exchange genetic material sexually.  There is often some environmental barrier that may exist to prevent interbreeding such as geographic location or even a behavior disparity as was mentioned from domestication. So there are at least 10 or more living subspecies within Rangifer taranadus including caribou and reindeer.

Edited by DocSantaMark

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Black Hills Santa


"REINDEER ARE NOT CARIBOU! although they are cousins." Very true. The caribou out here look kinda similar, but there is a noticeable difference. Great read, Michael. Thank you very much for sharing.

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Great article, I never knew that both sexes grew antlers.

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