The reindeer has distinctive features among its kind. This is the “youngest” species of deer and is very hardy, as they had to survive in rather difficult conditions. In addition to wildlife, domesticated individuals can also be found. What are the main features of mammals, where do they live, how do they live?
The origin of the species and description
Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) are very different from their counterparts even in appearance. The first thing that attracts attention is the special shape of the horns, which are owned by both males and females. Previously it was believed that the reindeer was originally from North America, but over time, evidence of their early habitat in northern Europe was found.
Reindeer from the deer family belong to the class of mammals and the order of artiodactyls. Most individuals are located in the Northern Hemisphere. The body weight of the animal varies from 70 to 200 kg with sizes from 165 to 210 cm. Males of the species are relatively larger than females. Domesticated individuals live on average up to 15 years, in the wild, under favorable conditions for life, this figure is higher.
The direct proximity of an animal to a person leaves an imprint not only on the phenotype, but also on the habits and behavior of the deer. One of the clearest examples is the approach of danger, in nature, animals scatter, while domesticated ones, on the contrary, huddle in a herd.
The physique of the reindeer is characterized by a special elegance. Particular attention is drawn to the small size of the head and the slightly lowered position of the muzzle, on which beautiful eyes stand out. The horns have a peculiar graceful curve. Animals tolerate low temperatures well due to their dense hairline, which does not let the cold wind through.
Appearance and features
Reindeer are characterized by the average size of the body, which has an elongated shape. The neck is oblong and seems to be more massive and thick due to the thick hair covering, the height of which reaches 6 cm. At the same time, the legs are of medium length, but visually seem short. As noted, the muzzle of the animal is lowered down, which is why the silhouette looks less slender compared to deer of other species, and the movements are less graceful.
The deer’s head is elongated, but of correct proportions, tapering towards the nose, which is also covered with a dense layer of hair and looks massive. The ears are round and small, no more than 18 cm high. The eyes are almond-shaped. The tail length reaches 21 cm. It is noteworthy that domesticated individuals are smaller and lighter than their wild counterparts.
This species is distinguished by the fact that along with males, females also have horns. They are large in size, have an arcuate bend. Their span reaches 120 cm in males. The horns are always smooth, whitish in color, and light brown are also found. Reindeer, unlike others, have larger antlers, but their maximum weight is 12 kg.
Domestic individuals boast more impressive antlers. The shape of the horns does not repeat, there are no two deer with the same horns, they differ in the number of processes, bend, thickness and size, even one deer does not have perfect symmetry on two horns. Females have lighter horns than males.
From November to December, already adult deer shed their antlers, while in young ones this process occurs from April to May. Females shed their antlers from May to June, after the end of calving, new ones begin to grow quite quickly, while in males only after three to four months.
The long and dense winter coat keeps the cold out and allows the reindeer to easily endure the winter. The hair on the body, although thick, filled with air, is quite brittle. On the legs, on the contrary, they differ in endurance and small length. Due to the fact that long hair frames the hooves, the animal’s support area increases, besides, it significantly reduces slip.
In summer, the hairline is replaced by a softer and shorter one. The hair is slightly filled with air and the mane does not seem so voluminous. Summer color is monochromatic brown, with shades of ashy, grayish or coffee. There are no significant differences in color between males and females. The hairline changes once a year, i.e. molting occurs.
This process lasts quite a long time, begins in April, and ends in early August. The hair of the old undercoat is shed first, then the awn. First, the head molts, gradually the molting passes to the back and ends on the belly.
Where does the reindeer live?
Reindeer have chosen large areas. Today they live in Norway, on the territory of the Kola Peninsula, in the taiga from Karelia to the coast of Okhotsk. About 700 thousand individuals live in the wild in the tundra zone.
The largest concentration of deer is located on the Taimyr Peninsula – approximately 450 thousand individuals. Here, reindeer roaming begins at the end of summer, they swim to the forest-tundra, and at the beginning of summer they return to the tundra again. Reindeer are also found in Transbaikalia and Altai.
Mostly reindeer prefer the climate of the following regions:
- North America;
- Northern Europe.
In summer, they live on the territories of the Arctic coast. It is here that they escape from the heat and annoying midges, which are especially active in the summer. With the approach of winter and cold weather, deer move to the forests. They prefer places where there is not a lot of snow and high snowdrifts that prevent food production.
To achieve the necessary conditions, animals often travel huge distances exceeding 500 km, they have to overcome all sorts of obstacles. When the cold finally recedes, around May, reindeer migration to the tundra is again observed. To return, they use the same path they came from.
Most often, deer live in a herd, however, there are solitary individuals who are kept apart from others. The number of individuals in the herd is constantly changing. Often the herd consists of one male leader and females with deer. The male is responsible for protecting his herd and territory.
What do reindeer eat?
In order to get food for themselves, the deer needs to work hard. Given their habitat, they have to look for food under the snow for almost the entire year. In search of food, deer dig up snow thicknesses up to 150 cm, however, in tundra conditions, animals cannot always dig even 30 cm if the snow is covered with crust. Mostly males dig snow, and females, i.e. females feeding from holes.
The main food sources for deer are:
- lichens. The food is pretty specific. Yagel is deprived of proteins, and the percentage of proteins that is present is difficult for deer to digest. They have a minimal salt content, and silicon salts are not suitable for deer. They also contain almost no vitamins. They act as fast food — do not carry any benefit, but give a quick feeling of satiety. To replenish the necessary supply of vitamins, animals need a variety of food;
- legumes. Deer prefer this food in summer;
- forbs. Acts as a fattening feed for deer. In summer, forbs take up to 20% in the diet of deer. When the season passes and the grasses wither, the deer lose interest in this kind of food;
- cereals. Forms the basis of the diet during the summer season;
- mushrooms. Deer eat mushrooms with pleasure, this is a kind of delicacy for them. From August until the first snow, deer diligently search for mushrooms and can travel long distances in search of;
- bushes. The main food of deer in the summer;
- miscellaneous. To obtain the necessary elements, in particular salt, deer eat bird eggs, do not disdain brackish soil or sea fish.
To quench their thirst in winter, deer eat snow. Severe frosts without snow are especially dangerous for animals, then the individuals have nowhere to take liquid, and dehydration quickly dissolves the fat reserves of deer.
Character and lifestyle features
The main feature of reindeer is herd existence. They gather in herds of different sizes from several tens to thousands. Loners are very rare, but this is more the exception than the rule. Unfortunately, it is more difficult for such units to survive in harsh conditions.
Life in a herd makes it much easier for deer to migrate and search for food. The herd is much easier to defend or fight off enemies. The leader male is responsible for protecting the territory and individuals in the herd. A lone deer in such situations is much less likely to have a happy outcome.
These are nomadic animals. They do not stay in one place all year round. In summer, they move to cooler regions, and with the onset of cold weather, where it is easier to get food. When autumn ends, deer migrate from the tundra to the south, as it is much easier to find food there, the climate is more gentle.
In search of a place and food, the herds overcome huge obstacles and distances. They swim across rivers, climb to peaks. With the end of cold weather, they again move to the tundra in the same way.
Social structure and reproduction
Starting from mid-October, the mating season begins for deer, which lasts until the end of November. The mating season is characterized by an increased level of male aggression, fights may occur between competitors in which the strongest is determined. It is the winner who gets the opportunity to mate with more than ten females during the entire rut.
It takes about eight months for a female reindeer to fully bear offspring, respectively, newborn fawns appear with the onset of summer. For one calving, the female brings one cub, it is extremely rare for two deer to appear.
Immediately after birth, the deer is too weak and small, weighing no more than 6 kg. However, after just a few days, the first small horns begin to appear. Very quickly, the baby is gaining strength and growing. He has only a little time to get stronger, because after a few months the deer begin the process of migration, which means that the little deer will have to overcome long distances and obstacles. During this period, males actively monitor the herd and protect it from dangers in every possible way.
Two years after birth, the deer reaches puberty, until this time he is always next to his mother. Reindeer live up to 25 years in the wild.
Reindeer natural enemies
The greatest danger in nature for deer is predators. Depending on the territorial location and number of deer herds, the danger and damage caused by predators varies and has a different impact on the population. The main factors affecting the level of damage are the lack of other food, environmental factors, the number of deer and predators.
The main danger to deer is the wolf. In the tundra and forest-tundra, it is from the attacks of wolves that a greater number of deer die. In the taiga, wolves do not pose such a danger due to the small concentration of predators in those parts. If there are not many wolves, then they do not cause serious damage to the herd of deer, but rather perform a selective function – only sick and weakened individuals die. Healthy and strong individuals are difficult prey for a wolf in winter. However, if the concentration of wolves is large, then the deer suffer serious losses, even healthy and strong ones die.
Also dangerous is the brown bear. Despite the fact that he does not often hunt deer, if he has the opportunity to get prey, he will not miss his. The easiest prey for a bear is a deer on the shore of a reservoir. The bear hunts most often on old individuals. Often, bears attack domestic deer and prefer small deer.
People also cause significant harm to deer. Despite the fact that deer hunting is prohibited and in some regions these animals are protected, poachers are not stopped by bans. Deer are valuable for people for their horns, skin, and also meat. In addition to hunting, the destruction of forests and the change in the natural habitat of animals also have a negative impact.
Previously, reindeer lived throughout Europe, but today they survive only in places where it is not easy for a person to reach.
Population and species status
The number of reindeer is decreasing every year. What affects the population? This is death in the natural environment as a result of predator attacks and human actions: economic activity, hunting and poaching. Today, the status of the species is fixed at the level of stable, the number of deer is more than 10 million individuals. However, in some regions, certain species of reindeer are protected by reserves and the Red Book.
In those regions where the likelihood of extinction of the species is observed, deer are kept in favorable conditions of reserves. Such activities have a positive effect on the population. Today, although the reindeer is not on the verge of extinction, the population of the species is rapidly declining.
There is a risk that under the same scenarios and human actions, this species will have to be entered into the Red Book and restored. In recent years, the deer population in Canada and Russia has decreased by 40%. It is human actions that have the most negative impact on wildlife.
The reindeer is a unique animal. With climate change, it is increasingly difficult for them to adapt and survive, but they are hardy and will be able to overcome these barriers. However, man, by his actions, has a detrimental effect on wildlife, in order to preserve these nomads and stop the decrease in their numbers, it is necessary to take appropriate measures.