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Caribou vs. Reindeer: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on January 29, 2024
Caribou and reindeer refer to the same species, Rangifer tarandus; "caribou" is used in North America, while "reindeer" is used in Europe and Asia, with some differences in domestication and physical traits.

Key Differences

Caribou, found in North America, are typically wild and larger, with longer legs and larger antlers. Reindeer, mainly in Europe and Asia, are often smaller, domesticated, and have been integral to indigenous cultures for transportation and agriculture.
The physical appearance of caribou is adapted to harsh, wild environments, including thicker fur and a robust build. Reindeer are often selectively bred, leading to variations in color and size, adapted to herding and human interaction.
Caribou undertake extensive migrations, one of the longest of any terrestrial mammal, for food and breeding. Reindeer, particularly domesticated ones, have migration patterns influenced by human herding practices.
Caribou play a crucial role in the ecosystems of North America, affecting vegetation and prey-predator dynamics. Reindeer have a significant cultural and economic role in societies, especially among the Sami people in Northern Europe.
The diet of caribou is varied, including lichens, mosses, and shrubs, adapting to seasonal changes. Reindeer, especially those that are herded, may have diets supplemented by humans, including additional forages and grains.

Comparison Chart


North America
Europe and Asia


Mostly wild
Often domesticated

Physical Traits

Larger, longer legs, larger antlers
Smaller, variations due to breeding

Migration Patterns

Long, natural migrations
Influenced by human herding

Role in Ecosystem

Important for wild ecosystems
Cultural and economic significance in societies


Varied, including lichens, mosses, shrubs
May include human-provided forages and grains

Caribou and Reindeer Definitions


Adapted to cold environments, caribou have thick fur and a sturdy build.
The caribou's thick fur protects it from the harsh Arctic winter.


Reindeer are essential to some cultures for transportation and agriculture.
In Lapland, reindeer are vital for both transport and livelihood.


A key species in North American ecosystems, affecting vegetation and predators.
Caribou grazing patterns significantly influence the Arctic flora.


A deer species prevalent in Europe and Asia, often smaller and domesticated.
The Sami people have herded reindeer for centuries.


A large, wild deer native to North America, known for its impressive antlers.
We spotted a herd of caribou migrating across the tundra.


Domesticated reindeer may have varied coloration due to selective breeding.
The reindeer in that herd have a beautiful mix of white and brown fur.


Caribou's diet changes seasonally, including lichens, mosses, and shrubs.
In winter, caribou primarily feed on lichens known as reindeer moss.


In addition to natural forage, reindeer diets can include human-provided grains.
Herders often supplement the reindeer's diet with grains in winter.


Caribou undertake one of the longest terrestrial migrations for food and breeding.
The annual caribou migration is a spectacular natural event.


Reindeer migration is influenced by human herding and environmental factors.
The movement of the reindeer is closely monitored by their herders.


A large deer (Rangifer tarandus) of the Arctic tundra and northern boreal forests, having large hooves and long branched antlers. Subspecies native to Eurasia are usually called reindeer.


A large deer (Rangifer tarandus) of the Arctic tundra and northern boreal forests, having large hooves and long branched antlers, and widely domesticated in Eurasia. Subspecies native to North America and Greenland are usually called caribou.


Any of several North American subspecies of the reindeer, Rangifer tarandus.


(plural: reindeer) Any Arctic and subarctic-dwelling deer of the species Rangifer tarandus, with a number of subspecies.


The American reindeer, especially the common or woodland species (Rangifer Caribou).


Any species, subspecies, ecotype, or other scientific grouping of such animals.


Arctic deer with large antlers in both sexes; called reindeer in Eurasia and caribou in North America


To herd or farm reindeer


Any ruminant of the genus Rangifer, of the Deer family, found in the colder parts of both the Eastern and Western hemispheres, and having long irregularly branched antlers, with the brow tines palmate.


Arctic deer with large antlers in both sexes; called reindeer in Eurasia and caribou in North America


Are caribou and reindeer the same animal?

Yes, but they are referred to differently in different regions and have some physical and behavioral differences.

Where are caribou found?

In the wild in North America, particularly in Canada and Alaska.

Where are reindeer found?

Mainly in Europe and Asia, and are often domesticated.

Can both caribou and reindeer be domesticated?

Caribou are typically wild, while reindeer are more commonly domesticated.

What is the significance of reindeer in certain cultures?

They are vital for transportation, clothing, and food, especially in cultures like the Sami of Northern Europe.

What species do caribou and reindeer belong to?

Both are the same species, Rangifer tarandus.

What is the main difference in appearance between caribou and reindeer?

Caribou are generally larger with longer legs and larger antlers compared to reindeer.

What do caribou eat?

Their diet includes lichens, mosses, and shrubs, varying with seasons.

Are there different subspecies of caribou?

Yes, there are several subspecies of caribou, each adapted to its specific environment.

Do reindeer migrate?

Yes, especially wild ones, though their migration patterns can be influenced by herding.

Is it true that both male and female reindeer grow antlers?

Yes, unlike most other deer species, both male and female reindeer grow antlers.

How are caribou important to indigenous cultures in North America?

They are vital for subsistence, providing food, clothing, and tools.

What is the lifespan of a reindeer?

In the wild, they can live up to 15 years, but this varies with conditions and domestication.

How long is the caribou migration?

It's one of the longest of any terrestrial mammal, covering hundreds of miles.

How do reindeer herders manage their herds?

Through seasonal migrations, herding techniques, and supplemental feeding.

Are caribou antlers different from reindeer antlers?

Yes, caribou antlers are generally larger and more complex.

How do reindeer adapt to cold environments?

They have thick fur and a layer of fat to insulate against the cold.

What role do caribou play in their ecosystem?

They are important for vegetation control and as prey for predators like wolves.

What threats do caribou face?

Habitat loss, climate change, and predation are major threats.

Can reindeer be seen in the wild?

Wild reindeer can be seen, though many are part of managed herds.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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