Rudolph the red-nosed…Caribou?

“Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows…”

Since we were kids, we’ve all heard the famous Christmas carol about Rudolph and his “very shiny nose.”

But did you know that Rudolph (and Dasher and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen) and the other reindeer which pull Santa’s heavy sleigh on Christmas Eve are actually Caribou?

Reindeer is another name for Caribou (Rangifer tarandus, for those of us who like official scientific names). Reindeer is the name used to refer to both wild and domesticated European and Asian Caribou (e.g., living in northern Scandinavia and Russia).

Our North American Caribou are long-legged and large-hoofed deer (Caribou, Moose and White-tailed Deer all belong to the deer family, Cervidae). But unlike Moose and White-tailed Deer, in which only the males grow antlers, both male and female Caribou grow antlers.  However, in Caribou, the right and left antlers are rarely symmetrical.

While Santa’s “Caribou” frequent the North Pole and the Arctic tundra, Caribou can actually be found much farther south as well.

In Ontario, they are found in the boreal forest region, including Wabakimi Provincial Park and (you guessed it) Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. These southern “Woodland Caribou” are forest-dwellers, living in coniferous boreal forests.

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park aerial shot of forest and lakes
Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

Caribou have very large feet, well suited for scraping hardened snow and ice to get at food below. (It’s probably safe to assume that large feet would also provide good traction, to pull Santa’s heavy sleigh and get it airborne.) If you’re out at a Christmas event this season that has live reindeer on display, go over and see how enormous their feet really are!

Reindeer/Caribou (you choose the name that you prefer) may be well suited to helping Santa make his all-important deliveries on Christmas Eve, however they are equally well adapted to living in northern Ontario the other 364 days of the year!