Nature – Caribou

Caribou is a species of deer found in the forests, mountains, and arctic tundra of Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, and Canada. The life span of caribou in the wild ranges from about eight to 15 years, with the doe living the longest.

DID YOU KNOW? Reindeer and Caribou are the same creature.

The caribou have the widest and roundest hooves of any of the deer family. They are used as paddles when swimming and as snow shoes when the snow is deep.

During the short summer months, caribou eat the leaves of willows, grass-like plants, flowering tundra plants and mushrooms. Over the long winter months, they eat dried grass-like plants, small shrubs, and their favorite and largest part of their diet, lichens. Those wide hooves are very helpful in digging through the snow and ice to obtain the lichen. Lichen lives under the snow, sometimes under feet of snow in the winter, and you have to wonder how the caribou find it.

Simple. Caribou have a great sense of smell and the ability to see both visible light and ultraviolet light. The lichen absorbs ultraviolet light and is seen in the snow as having wild colors or the color black.

Both the buck and doe grow antlers, though they are much larger and heavier on the buck. Bucks lose their antlers after the fall mating season, but the does retain their antlers through the winter. Having antlers during those long winter months, provides a way to keep the larger bucks from stealing lichens from the smaller, weaker, pregnant does, making it possible for the doe and her unborn calf to survive when food is scarce.

The ability to see ultraviolet light also makes it possible for caribou to see polar bears and other harmful predators. How? Hair absorbs ultraviolet light and makes these predators easy to see, if you’re a caribou.

Caribou feed and travel in large groups, providing extra protection for the feeble and young of their herds. They are very fast runners and can reach speeds between 37-50 mph. A one-day-old caribou can outrun an Olympic sprinter. During their migration south, the pads of their hooves shrink, exposing more of the rim of the hoof providing a better grip on snow and ice.

Another protective measure is a clicking sound made by tendons found in their feet. The sound can be heard from as far away as 150 feet, nearly half the length of a football field. Some scientists believe that this clicking sound helps the caribou find each other in fog and blizzard conditions making it possible for them to stay together in a herd.

God has certainly equipped the caribou to help it survive in its harsh habitat.

Adapted from God’s Living Treasures, Volume 2, “Amazing Animals of Alaska”