Reindeer vs. Deer – 8 Key Differences Explained

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Published: December 8, 2021
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A reindeer is a species of deer with huge horns that can be found in Asia, Europe, and North America. A deer is a hoofed, grazing, or browsing animal with branching, bone antlers, which are normally carried by males. Mammals with hooves, such as deer or reindeer, are all part of the “Cervidae” family.

While both deer and reindeer are accustomed to wintry conditions, there is a basic difference between the two: the deer prefers mild climates. As a side note, it is common to only find antlers on male deer. However, there is one exception to this rule: male and female reindeer both have antlers!

Female Reindeer Have Antlers
The main difference between reindeer and deer is size, location, and build.

Reindeer vs Deer Comparison

 ReindeerDeer
Species2nd largest species of deer; 10 SubspeciesAbout 43 Species total
LocationCircumpolar Europe, North America, and AsiaEverywhere except Australia and Antarctica
HabitatColder climates such as the tundra and the boreal woodsMostly moderate climates such as meadows and woodlands
BuildHas lengthy stumpy legs and split, wide hooves. Ranges from 180-400 poundsLegs are long and narrow, with pointed hooves. Species range from 20 to 1000 pounds
Furdense fur. Color of fur varies on habitatHas softer fur. Color of fur varies by species
AntlersMale and female reindeer have antlers. Large antlers for its body sizeOnly male deer have antlers. Antlers are long, forked, pointy
DietEats tree leaves, twigs, eggs, fish, lichen, moss, and berriesTwigs, berries, grass, leaves
HuntingHumans and bears hunt reindeerHumans, wolves, vultures, and cougars all hunt deer

The Key Differences Between Reindeer and Deer

The main differences between deer and reindeer can be seen in their diet, build, and habitats. Reindeer have a build suited to living in the Arctic where they feed on foods like lichens and mosses during harsh winters. Deer have smaller legs and hooves suited for less frigid environments and survive in diets heavier in berries, grass, and forbs.

In the comparison table above, you can clearly observe that reindeer and deer species have numerous distinct characteristics. Temperatures in the United States range from moderate to frigid, and reindeer are more suited to colder areas. Reindeer are the fifth-largest deer species behind moose, elk, sambar, and red deer.

Reindeer have larger hooves and thicker coats than other deer, making them more distinct. Reindeer have larger antlers than other deer, and this is true for both sexes. However, one of the biggest differences between the two species of deer is their environment.

For a deeper comparison, here is a breakdown of the 8 key differences between reindeer and deer:

Deadliest Animals in America
There are 43 species of deer of which reindeer are just one.

iStock.com/Matt_Gibson

Species

Both deer and reindeer belong to the family Cervidae. Reindeer is the fifth biggest species of deer. There are about forty-three total species of deer. For each species of deer, there are distinct subspecies. Reindeer are just one of these forty-three species, with 8 subspecies of its own!

There are eight subspecies of reindeer, including:

  • Santa’s (R.t. saintnicolas magicalus)
  • Barrenground (Rangifer tarandus granti)
  • Svalbard (R.t platyrhynchus)
  • European (R.t. tarandus)
  • Finnish forest (R.t. fennicus)
  • Greenland (R.t. groenlandicus)
  • Woodland (R.t. caribou)
  • Peary’s (R.t. pearyi)

Each reindeer subspecies has its own habitat. Alaska features barren-ground caribou and one tiny, wooded herd.

Location

Deer can be found across the world and in almost every US state. They can be seen in large numbers in western states. Wild reindeer, also known as caribou (Rangifer tarandus) can be found in the Arctic tundra, Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, Canada.

Habitat

Even though deer are commonly linked with woods, many of them are ecotone species that survive in transitional habitats between forests and thickets. Among their many habitats are swamps, coniferous and mixed woods, grasslands, and mountains, as well as rain forests and desert scrublands. It’s common for deer to go into metropolitan areas when human civilizations get too near to home.

There are two basic sorts of habitats in which reindeer can be found throughout the world’s polar areas. Some live on broad, open tundra, while others are found on the fringes and in the woods of the landscape.

Caribou Migration
Reindeer are suited for Arctic conditions while most other deer species aren’t.

doliux/Shutterstock.com

Build

Deer can range in weight from 20 pounds to more than 1,000 pounds. Reindeer are medium to large deer that can weigh between 180 and 401 pounds. Because of their tiny legs and pointed hooves, deer aren’t well-suited to living in extremely cold climates. Reindeer thrive in colder climates due to their large, split hooves which allow them to glide across ice and snow with ease and dexterity.

Fur

Reindeer fur varies in color based on the season, habitat, and location. Northern reindeer have lighter fur than southern reindeer. Deer have finer fur that retains the same color in any setting but seems to alter with the seasons.

For example, deer have a reddish spring color and a brown color in the fall. The deer’s coat is built for both warmth and camouflage. These thin red coats help deer cope with the heat. As the winter coat grows, the reddish color fades to a gray or brown and the fur thickens.

Antlers

While only male deer have antlers, both sexes of reindeer do. Reindeer antlers are enormous in relation to their body size, with the upper and lower tips (of antlers) separated into two distinct groups. Deer antlers are long, forked, and pointed, and are used in ritual contests and to win the attention of females.

Diet

Reindeer eat a variety of plants, including lichens, moss, willow and birch leaves, and mushrooms. Because of food shortages, reindeer are also known to consume small rodents, eggs, and fish. Food items that deer prefer include twigs, grass, leaves, and fruits.

Hunting

Wild deer cannot be domesticated. They are commonly hunted for their meat and antlers, which are prized by trophy collectors. Reindeer may be domesticated to pull sleds and transport people. They are also farmed to provide for milk, fur, and meat to farmers. Most reindeer hunts are in Russia, however, there are places to hunt them in other European nations and even Greenland.

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About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.