The Cervidae family is quite extensive, and two of the largest species are caribous and moose. Caribou vs moose is a battle of sizes and against common misconceptions, especially since caribou are also known as reindeer.
Standing side by side, both are veritable giants but carry distinct, easily recognizable differences. As large as caribou are, however, moose are much larger, and the antlers on a male moose are instantly recognizable all over the world.
Caribou vs Moose
It’s easy to tell them apart, especially in coloration and antlers. Some of their differences are more subtle. For instance, moose are largely solitary, preferring to go it alone most of the time. Caribou, on the other hand, stick together in herds.
Moose are generally one color, with maybe some darker hues of the same color throughout. They are dark brown, and when the sun strikes them directly, they have a reddish hue. Caribou have white fur around the neck and are a much lighter brown, to the point of tan.
Moose have large, thick antlers that resemble upside-down wings. The tines are small and stick out from the large plate that dominates most of the antler. Their antlers can reach a span of six feet.
Caribou females have antlers as well as males, and it’s the only deer species where this is the case. Caribou antlers are thinner than moose but grow rather large as well, resembling the patterns of whitetail and mule deer, just on a larger scale.
Moose are generally docile, as are caribou. The rut is a different story. A moose is like a massive, wild demon during the rut. If necessary, a moose will fight to the death to maintain its dominance. Caribou, being closely related to whitetail, act similar to whitetail during the rut but nowhere near the scale of moose.
Moose are the tallest mammals in North America, standing at a maximum of 6’ and 6” from hoof to shoulders. Caribou have a maximum height of 4’ and 7” from hoof to shoulder.
Are they related
Both moose and caribou belong to the Cervidae family, which includes all deer. They are closely related but never interbreed, at least not anything that has been observed or recorded in history.
Looking at their differences, it would be easy to assume they are not related. Both species are very different in appearance from one another. However, those differences are akin to the difference between a Doberman and a Chihuahua. Both are still dogs at the end of the day.
Which is Bigger
Moose are massive and the tallest mammals on the continent. Caribou are by no means small, especially in comparison to a standard whitetail or mule deer. But they’re nowhere near the scale of a moose.
Plus, moose are shaggier, with longer fur, giving them an even greater edge in terms of dominating appearance. An adult, male moose typically weighs three times that of a comparable caribou.
The average caribou (females and males) weigh from 180lbs to 700lbs. The average moose (male and female) weigh from 830lbs to 1,600lbs.
Caribou have a special affinity for lichen. This makes sense considering their bellies are full of special enzymes that break lichen down. Caribou are frequently seen grazing, consuming grass, leaves, and mushrooms, depending on the time of year.
Moose, being much larger and taller, reach up and eat tree shoots. Like caribou, they like to eat leaves as well, along with most perennials and water plants. Caribou will sometimes switch to their carnivorous side, eating small fish and rodents, which moose will never do.
Where to find each
You’ll find caribou in Alaska, Canada, Siberia, Finland, Norway, Greenland, and the northern states of the US. Every season, they embark on the longest migration of any land animal, traveling in herds for 3,200 miles.
For the most part, Moose live in Canada and Alaska. However, their much shorter migrations frequently carry them into the northern parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. They’re often harder to spot since they avoid herds and stick to solitary traveling.
Are either dangerous
For the most part, neither caribou nor moose are known to be dangerous, at least not in the way that a polar bear is. Of the two, moose have a history of being aggressive when they feel they are protecting their young.
If you came upon a moose in the wild and it wasn’t the rut, and no calves are nearby, you can likely hang out and enjoy the view of this massive animal. It’s best to be somewhere else if calves are nearby or during the rut, however.
For such closely related species, moose and caribou are strikingly different in habitat, nature, weight, height, temperament, antlers, coloration, and diet. You would have to put in some real effort to find closely related animals so unevenly matched.
They don’t seem like the same species at all. One thing is for certain, they are large animals, especially the moose, and majestic to watch. If you have to opportunity to hunt either, its a once in a lifetime experience.
Both are northern climate animals and are always associated with heavily forested areas where the trees are snowcapped for most of the year. While seeing a moose is something special, for the uninitiated, seeing a herd of caribou running across a snowy plain is truly an unforgettable sight to behold.
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