Caribou vs. Elk: What’s The Difference Between Caribou and Elk?

Caribou and Elk are often compared, because they are both deer species. But how do they differ from each other? Read more here and find out the differences.
Caribou vs. Elk: 11 Key Differences, Definition, Family belonging

Elk vs. Caribou: Caribou and elk are pensive mammals and are part of the Cervidae family. However, they are different species. Elk are larger than caribou and have a different coat. Caribou also have large antlers for defense, while elk use their antlers for mating rituals. 

Caribou and elk may look similar, but the two animals have some big differences. For one, elk belong to the Cervus Canadensis species while caribou belong to the Rangifer Tarandus specie. Size-wise, elk are also much larger than caribou.

What is an Elk?

What is an Elk? Elk - sometimes called the “wapiti” - is a Native American animal, and the word translates to “white rump.” They can alter color depending on the season. During the summer, they have a light tan, but during winter months, they become dark brown. Elk are the largest species of deer, weighing anywhere from 325 to 1100 pounds.

Elk – sometimes called the “wapiti” – is a Native American animal, and the word translates to “white rump.” They can alter color depending on the season. During the summer, they have a light tan, but during winter months, they become dark brown.

Elk are the largest species of deer, weighing anywhere from 325 to 1100 pounds. At one time, they were found in mountainous North American and East Asian forests, but they have since been introduced to new habitats like Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina.

Elk are highly social animals that often live in packs as large as 400 individuals, which are called gangs. Elk are typically found in lowland forests and habitats in forest mountains. You’ll also see them near marshes, lakes, and bushlands. Male elk – sometimes called bulls – sport antlers. They are twice as heavy as females or cows. 

Mating season for elk typically begins in September, as this is the time mature bulls fight for the attention of cows. This is done by making bugles, which are high-pitched noises. Cows are usually attracted to bulls that frequently bugle and make the loudest sounding pitches. After mating, a cow’s gestation period is typically between 240 and 262 days. Once this time ends, cows birth calves that tend to weigh up to 35 lb.

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Elk antlers are some of the quickest-growing bones in the animal kingdom, capable of growing up to 1 inch daily in the summertime. Male elk shed their antlers each March, growing new sets in May, and weigh as much as 40 pounds. New antlers tend to be covered in velvet, which helps insulate them during cold winter.

What is a Caribou?

What is a Caribou? A caribou is a type of deer found across North America’s boreal forests and Arctic tundra, Alaska, Northern Europe, Asia, and Greenland. They vary significantly in color and size, with males weighing up to 400lbs and females averaging 355lbs. Caribou and Elk have many differences, the most notable being the size of their antlers. Caribou antlers are much bigger than elk, and both males and females possess them.

A caribou is a type of deer found across North America’s boreal forests and Arctic tundra, Alaska, Northern Europe, Asia, and Greenland. They vary significantly in color and size, with males weighing up to 400lbs and females averaging 355lbs. Caribou and Elk have many differences, the most notable being the size of their antlers. Caribou antlers are much bigger than elk, and both males and females possess them. In Scandinavian populations, elder male Caribou shed their antlers in December, while younger males shed theirs in early Spring. Females shed their antlers in summer. This is in contrast to elk, in which only males have antlers.

Caribou has a nose that is coated entirely in short hair. This hair helps to keep the cold air relatively warm as it comes in. Caribou are known as seasonal breeders and usually mate in early Autumn. Male caribou battle one another for female access. Two males will lock antlers and try to force each other back. The victorious male can mate with up to 20 females.

Caribou are unique creatures that love to consume mosses and lichens. Some caribou are darkly grey, while others are darkly brown. You’ll find white patches on the neck, abdomen, forehead, beneath the tail, and sides surrounding the feet. An elk’s entire body is coated with two full layers – a woolly dense undercoat and an overcoat of long hair comprised of air-filled hollow hairs. This allows them to endure harsh (cold) climates.

To Which Families Belongs Elk And Caribou?

Elk and caribou are both part of the family of Cervidae, meaning they are both herbivores that mainly eat shrubs, grasses, trees, and leaves.

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Elk are typically held captive for velvet collection and hunting, while caribou are mostly found in the wild. Velvet shed by the antlers of a male elk is collected, then used for medicinal purposes, while caribou antlers are often used as decorative pieces. 

Elk hides are used to make footwear and warm clothes, while caribou fur is mostly used for making hats and other garments. Antlers are used as ornamental pieces nowadays, while elk skin belts, shoes, and gloves are used regularly.

Are Caribou and Elk Social Animals?

Caribou and Elk are both social animals who travel in groups. However, Caribou typically travel in herds of hundreds, while Elk travel in smaller groups. Caribou are commercially used for their hides, meat, milk, antlers, and even transportation for Arctic citizens. 

11 Key Differences between Caribou and Elk

BasisCaribouElk
IntroductionIs a smaller than Elk in size mammal (belongs to the family Cervidae)The largest living mammal (belongs to the family Cervidae) on Earth
Found InFound across the Arctic tundra and boreal forest of North America, Asia, Europe, and GreenlandFound in North America and Eastern Asia, also can be seen in such countries like Australia, Argentina, and New Zealand
Height33 – 60 inches tall56 – 68 inches tall
Weight350 – 400lbs650 – 850lbs
AntlersCaribous males and females have antlers, and they are much larger than elksOnly the elk males have antlers that are smaller than caribous
FurThe color of the caribou’s fur varies and depends on seasons and subspecies. Caribous from the Northern areas are smaller and have white fur while Caribous from Southern areas are larger and darker in colorElks have a reddish hue to their hair coloring along with it, and there are large buff-colored rump patches and smaller tails
HoovesThe hooves of Caribous change according to the climate. During summer, when the tundra is soft and wet, its feet become spongy to provide extra protection. During winter – the foot-pads get a shrink, exposes the rim of the hoof which enables them to cut the ice and prevent it from slippingElks possess an even number and same type of toes on each foot. They’re quite similar to camels, cattle, and goats.
DietAre also herbivorous. They eat lichens in the winter, willow leaves, birches, sledges, and grasses in the summer.Are herbivorous. They eat grasses, plants, leaves, and barks.
MigrationCaribous are migrators. They can move up to 5,000 km a year and can run at speeds of 37 – 49 mph.Elks love travel from low valley meadows to high mountain grazing grounds
GroupA group of Caribous is called « Herd »Are social animals, they live in large groups « gangs »
Life SpanCan live up to 15 years in the wildCan live up to 8 to 12 years in the wild and about 20 years or even more in the captivity

Comparison Chart

Caribou and Elk are often compared, because they are both deer species. But how do they differ from each other? Read more here and find out the differences.

Comparison Video

The Differences Between Reindeer, Caribou, and Elk

Conclusion: Caribou vs. Elk Main Differences

  • Caribou are found in the Arctic, boreal territories of North America, Siberia, Asia, Greenland, and Europe. Elk mainly inhabit East Asia and North America.
  • Elk are distinguished from caribou by size; adult elk are between 56 and 58 inches tall at the withers. Adult elk can weigh as much as 830lbs. Adult caribou, on the other hand, are smaller, typically between 34 and 62 inches high at the withers, and usually weigh between 355 and 400lbs.
  • Caribou don’t migrate considerable distances, while elk also make extensive migrations.
  • Elk have bare hair on their noses, while caribou have short hair covering their entire nose.
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