The Difference Between Moose and Caribou

Although moose and caribou are both types of deer, there are plenty of differences between them. Size, weight, coloring, habitat, temperament, diet, antler shape, existing predators, migration habits, and their history vary greatly.

For example, moose are a lot bigger than caribou.

Moose are solitary animals, while caribou travel in large herds. Moose have dark fur while caribou’s fur is lighter brown. There are a lot more differences than similarities between these two types of deer.

Moose are a Lot Bigger Than Caribou.

Moose, also known as elk in Asia and Europe, are huge animals topping the scales at close to a ton. They can reach a height of almost seven feet from hoof to shoulder. Caribou, also known as reindeer, are a lot smaller than moose, reaching a height of five feet at most.

Moose and Caribou Have Different Colored Fur.

Moose are solid colored with dark brown fur, while caribou have fur that ranges from light brown to beige. Both male and female moose are dark brown, almost black, with big noses. Caribou are not solid colored and have a white patch running the length of their necks.

Their Tails and Antlers are Different.

Moose have a short tail that is not much use for swatting insects, while caribou have longer, more useful tails.

Caribou’s antlers resemble big twigs and both sexes have them. Moose have large, open-hand shaped, flat antlers that can grow to six feet from tip to tip. Only male moose have antlers.

Another Difference is Eye Color.

Moose eyes remain the same color throughout their lives. Caribou eyes turn from gold in summer to blue in winter. This amazing feature helps to improve their vision during times of continued darkness so that they can spot predators more easily.

Moose and Caribou Live in Different Habitats.

Difference Between Moose and Caribou

Moose are solitary animals and except when raising their young or mating, they live alone. Moose do not migrate. Caribou travel in large herds, sometimes numbering over a million!

Moose live in northern forests, with most of the North American populations existing in Canada, Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.

A few moose can also be found in the upper Rocky Mountains, northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, and Colorado.

There are also large numbers of moose in the Baltic States, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, and Russia.

Caribou are constantly on the move during their long migrations. They are native to northern regions of North America, Europe, and Siberia. North American caribou are found in Alaska through the Yukon and into the Canadian Rockies.

Unlike moose, there are several types of caribou including barren-ground caribou, porcupine caribou, and Peary caribou. Some species prefer the tundra and others like woodland forests. Most caribou travel on long seasonal migrations.

Woodland caribou are almost extinct, but other types are still plentiful. The largest herds are currently found in Norway, Finland, Siberia, Greenland, Alaska, and Canada.

The Taimyr herd in Russia is the largest caribou herd in the world with an estimated one million animals.

Once the second largest herd, known as the George River herd in Canada, it is now on a serious decline, going from almost half a million to fewer than 9,000 animals. Also once plentiful in the contiguous United States, caribou herds in this region are now considered extinct.

Caribou and Moose Have Different Diets.

Caribou are grazers and they also eat lichens in winter. Their guts contain specialized enzymes which break down the lichens into glucose.

They also eat grasses, sedges, mushrooms, and leaves in summer. Caribou also eat antlers that have been shed by other animals. Caribou have also been known to eat small rodents, fish, and bird eggs, while moose are strictly vegetarians.

Moose eat tree shoots, leaves, perennial plants, and aquatic plants. They are not grazing animals, preferring foods with less fiber and more nutrients than grass. They can not digest hay, so attempts at domesticating moose are pretty much useless.

Moose have a more developed sense of smell than caribou. This enables them to sniff out water sources. They also use their noses to find food under the snow, to find mates, and to detect predators such as human hunters.

Do Moose and Caribou Have a Dewlap?

Both moose and caribou have a dewlap. The dewlap is a fold of skin under the animal’s chin that is possibly used in mating, although the exact purpose is unknown.

Are Both Moose and Caribou Endangered?

Difference Between Moose and Caribou

Neither moose nor caribou are on the endangered species lists, but populations are declining in many areas for different reasons.

Worldwide, the moose population is in decline. Reasons include bacterial infection and parasite infestations such as liver flukes, worms, and ticks. Other reasons for decreasing moose populations include reduction in habitat and global warming.

Moose populations in the United States were on the decline until the 1980’s, but at that time, with better land management, moose numbers began to steadily rise.

Maine has the largest headcount in the continental United States at around 76,000 animals. Alaska estimates that there are over 200,000 moose in that state. Hopefully, the numbers of moose will continue to rise.

Caribou populations are also in decline, but not much has been done to manage their numbers.

Changes in climate and habitat have caused an overlap between caribou and white-tailed deer populations which causes diseases to spread, increasing the number of infected caribou. This is a concern for environmentalists and native people.

Are Moose or Caribou Dangerous Animals?

Moose are a lot more dangerous than caribou! Moose can be aggressive when humans get too close, especially in mating season when hormone levels are running high.

Cows (female moose) will also charge if anything threatens her calf. Moose are very flexible and can kick with both front and hind legs.

They have sharp, pointed hooves that can really do some damage. In America, more people are injured by moose than by any other wild animal. Moose enter mating season in the fall and often fight over females. May the best moose win!

People are also injured when they hit a moose while driving. The impact can be so strong that front seats are crushed, causing hundreds of fatalities every year.

Seat belts and airbags are not much help in these wrecks. Warning signs are often placed on highways in regions where moose are plentiful. Many areas also cut back trees to improve vision and install fences to keep moose off of the roads.

Caribou have never been known to attack humans and are rarely a problem on highways, so no, they are not dangerous.

Do Different Predators Hunt Moose and Caribou?

Moose don’t have as many predators as caribou. Moose, even though they are large, intimidating animals, do have a few predators, including humans, bears, wolves, and Siberian tigers.

Usually peaceful, moose have been known to become aggressive and can move quickly if necessary. An adult moose can stomp a predator to death!

Caribou have more predators, including eagles, wolverines, brown bears, polar bears, wolves, and humans. They also are plagued by bloodsucking insects like mosquitoes and black flies.

An adult caribou can lose two pints of blood per week while on the tundra. Biting insects keep caribou on the move, searching for windy areas like mountain ridges and hilltops that offer relief from the swarms. Too bad we can’t spray them all with insect repellent!

Did Moose and Caribou Evolve at the Same Time?

Difference Between Moose and Caribou

No. European cave paintings feature moose in prehistoric drawings and their antlers have been found in 6000-year-old trapping pits. Some of the oldest skeletons come from France and Siberia. Scientists estimate that moose have been around for over 5 million years!

According to scientific estimates, caribou evolved much later. The oldest caribou skeletons were found in the Yukon and date back about 1.6 million years.

Are There Other Differences Between Moose and Caribou?

Yes. Caribou have knees that make a clicking sound that can be heard for miles. Moose do not make this noise when they walk or run.

Caribou have large feet with cloven hooves that help them to walk in snow and swampy areas. The hooves adapt to the season, becoming spongy in the summer and hard in the winter.

They also have long hair between their toes which helps protect them from the cold. This is quite different from the moose’s hooves, which stay much the same year round.

Although both caribou and moose are adapted to cold climates, caribou do better in warm weather. Moose suffer in a warm environment and must have shade when temperatures rise. They like to swim in the summer months, while caribou only swim out of necessity.

Are Both Moose and Caribou Useful to Mankind?

Perhaps, but caribou are the only domesticated deer in the world and thus more useful to man. Caribou have provided the arctic people with food and clothing for thousands of years.

Hunting and herding semi-domesticated caribou are important in the great north, providing meat, hides, antlers, milk, and transportation to native tribes. Some caribou have even been used to pull sleds.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is the most famous caribou. He leads the other reindeer every Christmas Eve during Santa’s flight around the globe.

Moose have never been tamed although they are hunted by humans for food. Moose have never been domesticated like the smaller caribou, although in the cartoons they can walk on their hind legs, talk, and solve crimes. Bullwinkle is the most famous moose in history!