In honor of the season, I thought it would be appropriate to do a piece on the animals that ride around with good ol’ Saint Nick.
Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, Class Mammalia, Order Artiodectyla, Family Cervidae, Genus Rangifer: Rangifer tarandus.
This is the reindeer, or as we call it in North America, the caribou, and while it can’t fly or make coffee, it is a pretty neat animal. The caribou is a medium to large-sized deer, not quite as big as an elk (Cervus canadensis) but much larger than the traditional white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) or even a mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). Caribou are relatively unique among the deer family because both the males and females grow antlers, although the males’ antlers are larger than the females’. There are many subspecies of caribou, as it is found in both tundra and taiga in North America, Scandinavia, and Russia. They can also be found dodging bullets from Sarah Palin.
Here are some caribou fun facts you might not know:
1. They’re tasty! New York City has hot dog vendors. Anchorage, Alaska has reindeer sausage vendors, which is basically just a hot dog made form caribou meat. In Alaska, caribou outnumber people, so each year, Alaskans fill their freezers with freshly-killed caribou.
2. They’re marathon runners … sort of. The subspecies we are familiar with in North America are famous for their long migrations. They often travel up to 50 miles per day and 3000 miles per year. For a size reference, it is only 2451 miles from Los Angeles to New York using the City Distance Tool.
3. Their most fierce predators are 5 and 30 times smaller than the caribou. The most prolific predator of caribou is the gray wolf (Canis lupus), which weighs in at about 80lb. The second most prolific predator is actually the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), which at its maximum is only about 15lb. Gray wolves use their speed and strength in numbers to attack caribou, while golden eagles prey on the caribou newborn calves. Caribou also have to deal with the traditionally pesky mosquitos (Family Culicidae), which in Alaska are HUGE!
Hope you like the facts, and come back again for the next installment of MotherNaturesPen.