‘Tis the season when many children think about sleighs and reindeer. Or should we say, sleighs and caribou?  

How They Are Similar

    • Reindeer and caribou are all found in the northern regions of the earth. Besides Alaska and Canada in North America, they also live in the icy regions of Norway, Russia, and Greenland.
    • Both the males and the females grow antlers. (They are the only deer species that do this). They shed them every year, although males lose them earlier in the winter than females.
    • Both animals have feet that “winterize”. In the summer, their foot pads are more sponge-like. This gives them extra traction for the soft ground. In the winter, hair grows between the toes. Their feet become more like snowshoes, enabling them to move more easily across the snow. At the same time, the foot pads shrink and tighten. The rim of the hoof can then cut through the ice.
    • They both have hollow hair. The shape of the hair allows it to trap air, providing insulation to keep them warm.
    • The reindeer and caribou’s hollow hair also helps them swim across icy rivers. They are strong swimmers and can swim for miles at a time.
    • Both animals are born ready to run! Within 90 minutes of being born, a reindeer or caribou calf can run. Just hours later, they are able to run several miles.


Although reindeer and caribou are closely related, many experts believe they are two different animals. While they are the same species, they are actually different sub-species. Here’s why:

How They Are Different

    • Female reindeer antlers grow larger than female caribou antlers.
    • Reindeer are shorter and stouter.
    • Caribou travel much longer distances when migrating than reindeer do.
    • Reindeer fur is thicker and denser than that of caribou.
    • Reindeer begin the breeding season earlier than caribou. Reindeer calves are born at the end of April; caribou calves are born at the end of May.
    • Reindeer are semi-domesticated animals. Caribou, however, are wild. 

So it is probably true, then… Santa’s sleigh is pulled by eight tiny reindeer, not eight tiny caribou.


To Learn More

“15 Things You Didn’t Know About Reindeer.” Mother Nature Network. 

“25 Days of Reindeer.” Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Biology Conservation Institute.

“Reindeer…Caribou…What’s the Difference?” University of Alaska Fairbanks 



Photo by JasonSWrench 

Written by Samantha Bell