Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) are one in the same as caribou. I’ve heard that the term “reindeer” refers to the domesticated version of the species, while caribou refers to the wild ones.
This past summer (2012), I was very fortunate to spend 3 months living on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. I scored a sweet seasonal technician position with the USFWS monitoring movements of spawning Chinook (King) salmon. If you’re interested in any of those pictures and tales, check out my Alaska blog entries here.
While I was driving from here to there on daily errands up in the 49th state, I would occasionally get to see caribou milling around on this flood plain, referred to as “The Flats”. It was at the mouth of the mighty Kenai River, and when a storm surge happened to occur, or an especially high tide, these lowlands could absorb much of the excess water. In the drier parts of the year though, there was a lush grass growing and it was wide open. This allowed for good grazing and the ability to watch for predators, like grizzly bears.
Let me back up. Antlers are shed every year. Horns are permanent. Antlers are a secondary sexual characteristic, that often shows on caribou. An example of a primary sexual characteristic would be internal/external sexual anatomy which dictates the sex of the organism.
White-tailed deer have been known, though less frequently, to show antlers on the does. Wild turkey hens can sometimes have a beard. I don’t know what this means for their reproductive abilities, but if the females are exhibiting these secondary traits, they probably have more testosterone in them than a normal female. They likely can’t viably reproduce, but I’d wager with caribou it’s not quite the same situation.
Caribou are the only antler-ed animal in North America that have antlers on males and females. The picture above is of a male caribou, which sports the more extravagant set of antlers. The picture below is of a pair of females, sporting a much less impressive antlers.
-Characteristic of the family Cervidae: deer, moose, elk, caribou
-Often present only in males (with the exception of caribou)
-Grown annually, shed annually, temporary
-Characteristic of the family Bovidae: cows, sheep, goats, antelope, musk oxen
-Present in both males and often the females
-Continuously growing, never shed, permanent
Anyway, there is a bunch of caribou and reindeer information for you! I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, or Happy [whatever] Holidays!
Hopefully I can share some nice IR camera trap pictures with you soon.
That’s a whole story in itself!