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Elk vs. Reindeer: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 26, 2023
Elk are large deer species known for their impressive antlers and vocalizations, while reindeer, also known as caribou, are notable for their adaptations to cold climates and domestication in some regions.

Key Differences

Elk, part of the Cervidae family, are known for their large size and impressive antlers, which are typically larger in males. They have a distinctive light brown coat. Reindeer, also in the deer family, are smaller than elk and have thicker, denser fur to adapt to colder climates. Both male and female reindeer grow antlers, which is a unique characteristic among deer species.
Elks are primarily found in North America and Eastern Asia, thriving in forest and forest-edge habitats. They are adapted to a range of environments but prefer open woodlands and meadows. Reindeer are native to Arctic and Subarctic regions, including Northern Europe, Siberia, and North America (where they are known as caribou). They are well adapted to tundra and boreal forests.
Elk are known for their herding behavior, especially during the mating season, known as the rut, when males emit distinctive calls and compete for females. Reindeer, on the other hand, are famous for their long migratory patterns, with some herds traveling over 3,000 miles annually, the longest of any terrestrial mammal.
Elks play a significant role in their ecosystems as browsers, affecting forest and plant growth. They are also culturally significant in many Indigenous cultures in North America. Reindeer have a unique role in human society, especially among Indigenous peoples of the Arctic, who have domesticated them for transport, clothing, and food.
The conservation status of elk varies by region, but they are generally not considered endangered, although habitat loss and hunting pose threats. Reindeer are facing more significant threats due to climate change, which is impacting their Arctic habitat, along with challenges from industrial development and land-use changes.

Comparison Chart


Larger body size
Smaller than elk


Large antlers, typically in males
Both sexes grow antlers


Forests and open woodlands in North America and Eastern Asia
Arctic and Subarctic regions


Herding behavior, known for vocalizations during the rut
Long migratory patterns, adaptability to extreme cold

Human Interaction

Significant in Indigenous cultures, but not domesticated
Domesticated in some Arctic cultures for various uses

Elk and Reindeer Definitions


Elk are large deer known for their impressive antlers and distinctive vocalizations.
The bugling of an elk echoed through the forest during the rut.


Reindeer are known for their remarkable migratory journeys, covering extensive distances.
The reindeer migrate annually, traveling vast distances across the tundra.


Elk are primarily found in North America and parts of Eastern Asia.
In North America, elk are a common sight in national parks and wilderness areas.


Reindeer have been domesticated by some Arctic cultures for transportation and other resources.
In Lapland, reindeer are an integral part of the culture, used for sledding and as livestock.


Elk are herbivores that graze on grasses, plants, and leaves.
A herd of elk was spotted grazing in the meadow at dawn.


Both male and female reindeer grow antlers, a unique feature among deer.
In the reindeer herd, both the males and females displayed their impressive antlers.


Elk are known for forming large herds, especially during mating seasons.
The elk formed a large herd, with the males competing for dominance.


Reindeer are deer species well adapted to cold Arctic and Subarctic environments.
Reindeer have thick fur coats to withstand the harsh Arctic winters.


Elk have a significant cultural and spiritual importance in various Indigenous cultures.
The elk is revered in many Indigenous legends and stories.


Reindeer are also known as caribou in North America.
The caribou, or reindeer, is a vital species in the North American Arctic ecosystem.


A large reddish-brown or grayish deer (Cervus canadensis) of western North America, having long, branching antlers in the male. The elk is sometimes considered a subspecies of the closely related red deer. Also called wapiti.


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.


Chiefly British The moose.


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


A light, pliant leather of horsehide or calfskin, tanned and finished to resemble elk hide.


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


Any of various large species of deer such as the red deer, moose or wapiti (see usage notes).


To herd or farm reindeer


Any of the subspecies of the moose (Alces alces, alternatively named Eurasian elk to avoid confusion with the wapiti), that occurs only in Europe and Asia.


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.


Any moose (Alces alces), the largest member of the deer family.


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


(North America) common wapiti (Cervus canadensis), the second largest member of the deer family, once thought to be a subspecies of red deer.


(British India) Sambar (Cervus unicolor).


A large deer, of several species. The European elk Alces alces (formerly Alces machlis or Cervus alces) is closely allied to the American moose. The American elk, or wapiti (Cervus Canadensis) the largest member of the deer family, has large, spreading antlers and is closely related to the European stag. See Moose, and Wapiti.


The European wild or whistling swan (Cygnus ferus).


A member of the fraternal organization named Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, supporting various services to their communities.


Large northern deer with enormous flattened antlers in the male; called elk in Europe and moose in North America


What is an elk?

An elk is a large deer species known for its impressive antlers, native to North America and eastern Asia.

Are elks social animals?

Yes, elks are quite social, typically found in groups called herds.

How do elks communicate?

Elks communicate through vocalizations like bugling, and also use body language.

Are elks endangered?

Elks are not currently endangered, but some subspecies are considered threatened.

What do elks eat?

Elks are herbivores, feeding on grasses, plants, leaves, and bark.

What is a reindeer?

Reindeer, also known as caribou in North America, is a species of deer known for its adaptability to cold environments.

How do reindeer adapt to cold climates?

Reindeer have thick fur and a unique nasal structure to warm incoming cold air.

Do elks migrate?

Yes, elks often migrate seasonally to access different feeding grounds.

How long do elk live?

In the wild, elks can live around 10 to 13 years.

Can elks be domesticated?

Elks are generally not domesticated, but they can be farmed for their meat and antlers.

How big can elks get?

Elks can weigh between 500 to 730 pounds (225 to 330 kg) and stand around 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) tall at the shoulder.

Where do reindeer live?

Reindeer are native to arctic, subarctic, tundra, boreal, and mountainous regions of northern Europe, Siberia, and North America.

How long is the lifespan of a reindeer?

Reindeer typically live around 15 years in the wild.

Are reindeer endangered?

Reindeer are not globally endangered, but some subspecies are threatened due to habitat loss and climate change.

What is the habitat of an elk?

Elks inhabit forest and forest-edge habitats, often in mountainous regions.

Are reindeer migratory?

Yes, reindeer are known for their long migratory patterns, traveling up to 3,000 miles annually.

Are reindeer domesticated?

Yes, reindeers are one of the few deer species that have been domesticated, mainly for transport, milk, meat, and hides.

What role do reindeer play in indigenous cultures?

In many cultures, especially among the Sami people of northern Europe, reindeer are integral for transportation, clothing, and as a food source.

Do both male and female reindeer grow antlers?

Yes, uniquely among deer species, both male and female reindeer grow antlers.

What do reindeer eat?

Reindeer mainly eat lichens in winter, and also graze on grasses and plants.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
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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