Reindeer are a domesticated variety of the caribou, a deer species native to northern North America, Europe, Asia and Greenland. The Sami people of Scandinavia and the Kola peninsula of Russia have herded reindeer and used them as draft animals since the 17th century. Native Russian peoples also herd reindeer.
Reindeer are smaller and shorter-legged than wild caribou, which can weigh up to 700 pounds and stand up to 5 feet at the shoulder. Both male and female reindeer have antlers, but the males shed theirs in early December while the females keep theirs throughout the winter.
Reindeer are well-adapted to harsh northern climates. They have large hooves with sharp edges that give them purchase and support on snow and ice. The hooves' shape helps the animals scoop away snow from the grasses and lichens they eat and also helps reindeer swim well. Reindeer also have coats made of hollow hairs that trap heat.
In the wild, caribou migrate up to 3,000 miles per year, the longest migration of any land animal. Reindeer herders follow similar patterns, migrating between summer and winter grazing areas. Both the Sami and the Komis of Russia depend on their reindeer herds for meat, milk and skins.