Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) - Wiki
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[Photo] Caribou--from FWS in public domain
The reindeer, known as caribou when wild in North America, is an Arctic and Subarctic-dwelling deer (Rangifer tarandus).
The reindeer is distributed throughout a number of northern locales. Reindeer are found throughout Scandinavia (including Iceland); in Finland; at Spitsbergen; in European parts of Russia including Northern Russia and Novaya Zemlya; in the Asian parts of Russia, to the Pacific Ocean; in North America (where it is called the caribou) on Greenland, Canada and Alaska. In 1952 reindeer were re-introduced to Scotland, as the natural stock had become extinct in the 10th century.
Domesticated reindeer are mostly found in Northern Scandinavia and Russia, and wild reindeer are mostly found in North America, Greenland and Iceland (introduced by humans in the 18th century). The last wild reindeer in Europe are found in habitats in southern Norway. Its natural occurrence is approximately bounded within the 62° latitude.
A handful of reindeer from Norway were introduced to the South Atlantic island of South Georgia (South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands) in the beginning of the 20th century. Today there are two distinct herds still thriving there but they have been permanently separated by mountains. Their total numbers are no more than a couple of thousand. (The flag and the coat of arms of the SGSSI, officially an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, contain an image of a reindeer.)
The weight of a female varies between 60 and 170 kg. In some subspecies of reindeer, the male is slightly larger; in others, the male can weigh up to 300 kg. Both sexes grow antlers, which (in the Scandinavian variety) for old males fall off in December, for young males in the spring and for females during the summer. The antlers typically have two separate groups of points (see image), a lower and upper. Domesticated animals (reindeer) are shorter-legged and heavier than their wild counterparts (caribou). The caribou of North America can run at speeds up to 50 miles per hour and may travel 3,000 miles in a year.
Reindeers are ruminants, having a four-chambered stomach. They mainly eat lichens in winter, especially reindeer moss. However, they also eat the leaves of willows and birches, as well as sedges and grasses. They can also eat voles (lat. Clethrionomys glareolus), lemmings (lat. Lemmus lemmus), birds and bird eggs.
Reindeer have specialized noses featuring nasal turbinate bones that dramatically increase the surface area within the nostrils. Incoming cold air is warmed by the animal's body heat before entering the lungs, and water is condensed from the expired air and captured before the deer's breath is exhaled, used to moisten dry incoming air and possibly absorbed into the blood through the mucous membranes.
Reindeer hooves adapt to the season: in the summer, when the tundra is soft and wet, the footpads become spongy and provide extra traction. In the winter, the pads shrink and tighten, exposing the rim of the hoof which cuts into the ice and crusted snow to keep the animal from slipping.
The reindeer coat has two layers of fur, a dense woolly undercoat and longer-haired overcoat consisting of hollow, air-filled hairs. A caribou or reindeer swims easily and fast; migrating herds will not hesitate to swim across a large lake or broad river.
In the wild, most caribou migrate in large herds between their birthing habitat and their winter habitat. Their wide hooves help the animals move through snow and tundra; they also help propel the animal when it swims. About 1 million live in Alaska, and a comparable number live in northern Canada.
There are an estimated 5 million reindeer in Eurasia, mainly semi-domesticated. The last remaining European herds of the genetic wild reindeer are found in central Norway, mainly in the mountainous areas of Rondane, Hardangervidda, Dovre and Forollhogna. Other areas, such as Filefjell, have populations of reindeer that have been herded in the past but are now left free. Wild reindeer are considered to be very vulnerable to human disturbance, especially during the calving period in April.
Males usually split apart from the group and become solitary, while the remaining herd consists mostly of females, usually a matriarchy.
Woodland Caribou (R. tarandus caribou), or forest caribou, once found in the North American boreal forests from Alaska to Newfoundland and as far south as New England and Washington. Woodland Caribou have disappeared from most of their original southern range and are considered "threatened" where they remain, with the notable exception of the Migratory Woodland Caribou of northern Quebec and Labrador, Canada. The name of the Cariboo district of central British Columbia relates to their once-large numbers there, but they have almost vanished from that area in the last century. A herd is protected in the Caribou Mountains in Alberta.
Arctic reindeer (R. tarandus eogroenlandicus), an extinct subspecies found until 1900 in eastern Greenland.
Finnish Forest Reindeer (R. tarandus fennicus), found in the wild in only two areas of the Fennoscandia peninsula of Northern Europe, in Finnish/Russian Karelia, and a small population in central south Finland. The Karelia population reaches far into Russia, however, so far that it remains an open question whether reindeer further to the east are R. t. fennicus as well.
Grant's Caribou (R. tarandus granti) which are found in Alaska and the Yukon and Northwest territoires of Canada.
Barren-ground Caribou (R. tarandus groenlandicus), found in the Nunavut and Northwest territories of Canada and in western Greenland.
Peary Caribou (R. tarandus pearyi), found in the northern islands of the Nunavut and Northwest territories of Canada.
Svalbard Reindeer (R. tarandus platyrhynchus), found on the Svalbard islands of Norway, is the smallest subspecies of reindeer.
Mountain/Wild Reindeer (R. tarandus tarandus), found in the Arctic tundra of Eurasia and North America, including the Fennoscandia peninsula of Northern Europe.
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