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Contrary to what many believe, reindeer are real animals. They are not just imaginary animals that drive Santa's sleigh. Reindeer are members of the deer-family. These medium-sized mammals are known for their swimming and running ability. There are nearly 20 sub-species of reindeer, but only one main species. In North America, reindeer are often referred to as the caribou.
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Characteristics and Size
On average, reindeer are about six feet long and four feet tall. Adult males can weight as much as 300 pounds. Both females (known as cows) and males (known as bulls) have antlers. Other characteristics include a broad muzzle, wide hooves, and thick brown fur. Their fur is thick, which helps insulate them from the cold; their fur literally traps air. Their thick fur also helps them float in water. On average, reindeer in the wild live for about ten years.
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Reindeer are herbivores. This means that they only eat plants and do not eat other animals. These animals spend the better part of their days eating. During the warmer months of the year, reindeer often eat herbs and leaves. When the weather is cold, they eat moss and lichens. Reindeer also eat grass. On occasion, evidence shows that reindeer may feed on arctic char, lemmings, and bird eggs. Some also eat mushrooms during the late summer.
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Where Reindeer Live
Reindeer are almost always found in taiga and tundra. They were originally found in Scandinavia, Russia, Northern China, Eastern Europe, and Mongolia. In North America, they are found in Alaska, and from Maine to Washington in the northern conterminous United States. They can also be found in Canada. They may also be found, though sometimes not many, in Greenland, Norway, Siberia, Finland, Scotland, South Georgia, and Iceland.
Populations have fluctuated throughout history, but several different herds are reducing across their range. Migratory, northern reindeer and caribou are reducing due to climate change. Non-migratory, sedentary herds are reducing due to their habitat being affected by industrial disturbance.
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Reindeer mate from around late September to around the early part of November. Males battle each other to get to the females. They do this by trying to push each other away after locking antlers. The dominant males will gather nearly 15 to 20 females that they will mate with. During this time, males lose most of their body reserves because they stop eating.
During the following May or June, calves may be born. Females usually give birth to one or two babies per litter. It takes about 45 days for these calves to start foraging and grazing. However, they will remain feeding from their mother until around the following autumn, when they are able to be independent from their mother.
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Other Interesting Facts
In addition to the basic reindeer facts, there are other facts that are interesting about this animal. The broad hooves that reindeer have act like snowshoes allowing them to easily make their way through snow and ice. During the winter, reindeer shed their antlers.
The term “herd" is used to describe a group of reindeer. Bellowing is the sound reindeer make. Male reindeer are usually solitary, while females tend to group themselves into herds. However, during September, males will join herds for what is known as the rutting season.
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Enchanted Learning. (2010). Reindeer. Retrieved on December 29, 2010 from Enchanted Learning: http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/mammals/deer/Reindeerprintout.shtml
US Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management. (2010). Reindeer Grazing. Retrieved on December 29, 2010 from the US Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management: http://www.blm.gov/ak/st/en/prog/reindeer_grazing.html