European reindeer.
European reindeer.


The reindeer is a species of deer adapted to life in the polar region. The European reindeer is conspecific with the animal known as caribou in North America.

European reindeer.

European reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus), Toronto Zoo.

Reindeer mostly eat lichens, especially the species known as reindeer moss or reindeer lichen, but they will eat almost any plant matter they can find as well as small animals if other food is scarce. Like other species of deer, reindeer are ruminants.

Also somewhat unusual among deer that both sexes of reindeer wear antlers.

Reindeer exist both as wild animals and as domesticated ones. People have kept and bred reindeer for millennia, but they always had a sort of semi-feral existence. Up north in the Scandinavian countries and in e.g. Siberia very few animals can tolerate the weather conditions, so reindeer are used for all sorts of purposes such as drawing sleighs and some breeds are even suitable for riding. Apart from its strength the reindeer’s meat and milk is used as important food items.

In a number of western cultures, including North America, Santa Claus uses a a reindeer powered flying sleigh to distribute gifts during Christmas. This implies a speed unheard of in any animal powered vehicle, and the exact details are hard to reconcile with the known laws of physics. Also no known reindeer has actually been observed flying under its own power.

Further Readings:

Reindeer on Wikipedia.
European reindeer on the Toronto Zoo website.
Last updated: December 24, 2014

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