Caribou vs. Reindeer

What's the Difference?

Caribou and reindeer are two closely related species of deer that share many similarities but also have some distinct differences. Both caribou and reindeer belong to the same genus, Rangifer, and are known for their impressive antlers. They are both well-adapted to cold environments and have thick fur to keep them warm. However, one key difference between the two is their habitat. Caribou are found in North America, while reindeer are native to the Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. Another notable distinction is their domestication status. Reindeer have been domesticated for thousands of years and are used by indigenous peoples for transportation, herding, and as a source of food and materials. Caribou, on the other hand, have remained wild and are known for their long-distance migrations. Overall, while caribou and reindeer share many similarities, their habitat and domestication status set them apart.


Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash
Scientific NameRangifer tarandusRangifer tarandus
HabitatTundra, boreal forestsTundra, boreal forests
Geographical RangeNorth America, Europe, AsiaNorth America, Europe, Asia
SizeLarge, males weigh up to 700 kgMedium to large, males weigh up to 300 kg
AntlersBoth males and females have antlersBoth males and females have antlers
Migratory BehaviorSome populations migrate long distancesHighly migratory, known for long-distance migrations
DomesticationNot domesticatedDomesticated in some regions
Use by HumansHunted for meat, hides, and antlersUsed for transportation, meat, and hides
Photo by Andreas Dress on Unsplash

Further Detail


Caribou and reindeer are two closely related species of deer that are often confused with each other due to their similar appearance. While they share many similarities, there are also some distinct differences between the two. In this article, we will explore the attributes of caribou and reindeer, highlighting their physical characteristics, habitat, behavior, and cultural significance.

Physical Characteristics

Both caribou and reindeer belong to the same species, Rangifer tarandus, and share many physical characteristics. They are medium-sized deer with a stocky build, long legs, and large hooves. Both species have a dense coat of fur that changes color with the seasons, providing excellent insulation in cold climates. However, there are some differences in their physical attributes.

Caribou are generally larger than reindeer, with males weighing between 350-700 kg (770-1,540 lbs) and females weighing between 150-260 kg (330-570 lbs). In contrast, reindeer are slightly smaller, with males weighing between 160-180 kg (350-400 lbs) and females weighing between 80-120 kg (180-260 lbs). Another notable difference is in their antlers. Male caribou have larger and more elaborate antlers compared to male reindeer, which are typically smaller and less branched.


Caribou and reindeer are both adapted to live in cold and harsh environments, but their habitats differ slightly. Caribou are primarily found in North America, particularly in the Arctic regions of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. They are well-suited to survive in the tundra and taiga ecosystems, where they migrate over vast distances in search of food and suitable breeding grounds.

On the other hand, reindeer are more commonly found in Eurasia, particularly in the northern regions of Europe, Asia, and Russia. They inhabit a variety of habitats, including tundra, taiga, and even subarctic forests. Reindeer are known for their remarkable ability to adapt to different environments, allowing them to thrive in diverse landscapes.


Both caribou and reindeer are highly social animals that form herds for various purposes. These herds can range in size from a few individuals to several thousand. One of the most fascinating behaviors of caribou and reindeer is their annual migration. They undertake long-distance journeys, covering hundreds or even thousands of kilometers, in search of food and to give birth.

During the migration, caribou and reindeer face numerous challenges, including crossing rivers, navigating through difficult terrain, and avoiding predators. However, their strong herding instinct and excellent sense of direction help them overcome these obstacles. The migration patterns of caribou and reindeer are crucial for their survival, as they rely on seasonal vegetation and need to escape harsh winter conditions.

Cultural Significance

Caribou and reindeer have significant cultural importance for indigenous communities around the world. They have been a vital source of food, clothing, and materials for various indigenous cultures for thousands of years. The meat of caribou and reindeer is highly nutritious and provides essential sustenance in regions where other food sources are scarce.

In addition to their practical uses, caribou and reindeer hold spiritual and symbolic significance for many indigenous peoples. They are often featured in traditional stories, songs, and artwork, representing strength, resilience, and the interconnectedness of all living beings. The relationship between humans and caribou/reindeer is deeply rooted in cultural traditions and continues to be celebrated and honored today.


Caribou and reindeer, although belonging to the same species, exhibit some distinct differences in their physical characteristics, habitat, behavior, and cultural significance. While caribou are generally larger and have more elaborate antlers, reindeer are slightly smaller and more adaptable to different environments. Both species undertake remarkable migrations and play a crucial role in the ecosystems they inhabit. Furthermore, caribou and reindeer hold immense cultural importance for indigenous communities, serving as a source of sustenance and a symbol of cultural identity. Understanding the attributes of caribou and reindeer helps us appreciate the diversity and beauty of the natural world and the intricate relationships between humans and wildlife.

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