Under Construction May 2011


Rangifer tarandus granti


Length: 60mm max (Furskin 2006), 120-130mm mane hair in the winter (Adorjan and Kolenosky 1969), 20-30mm (ASM #1 back), 65-80 (ASM #1 tail), 30-40mm (ASM #6)

Diameter Range: 150-220 microns (Furskin 2006),170 to 270 microns (Meeks and Cartwright 2005) 275 microns (ASM #1)

Medullary Index: N/A

Medulla: Medulla not the typical dark line of cells, but large open cells in polygon shapes like bubble-pack.  Distinctive cusp-like features, as if the cells are pushing up against each other and making sharp ridges, rather like a faceted gemstone.

Color: Not heavily pigmented.  Adorjan and Kolenosky (1969) suggest that the hairs in the winter are banded white and light grey?

Scales: Scales have a definite narrow fish-scale look to them, and the big polygon shapes of the medulla should not be mistaken for the scales.  Scales have smooth edges and are often only a few across when viewed through the microscope, looking like squat polygons. 


Length: 20-30mm (Adorjan and Kolenosky 1969), 10-20mm (ASM #1 back), 5-15mm (ASM #1 tail), 30-45mm (ASM #4), 10-15mm (ASM #6)

Diameter Range: 10-15 microns (Furskin 2006), 30 microns (ASM #1)

Medullary Index: N/A

Medulla: No medulla easily visible

Color: Brown pigmentation appearing in longitudinal orientation in wide dashes (ASM #1)  grey in winter?  (Adorjan and Kolenosky 1969)

Scales: Stacked crowns

Macro Qualities:  Even the snout has hair, which is unusual.  Animal is 4.5-6.7 feet long (Forsyth 1999)  In late fall, caribou are clove-brown with a white neck, rump and feet and often have a white flank stripe.  Newborn calves are usually reddish-brown. Dark brown in summer, whitish-gray or whitish brown in the winter (Furskin 2006)

Cultures: For example: Yup’ik dance fans decorated with caribou throat hair (pp 237-238), caribou leg-skins were made into high boots, sleeping bags for travel made by joining two caribou skins (p.258) and fur-side-out fancy parkas (p.259)  Fienup-Riordan  (2007) Yuungnaqpiallerput: The Way We Genuinely Live.  Masterworks of Yup’ik Science and Survival.  Anchorage Museum Association. 

Notes:  ASM #1 is from the ASM education collection, ASM #2 is from the ASM education collection, labeled “late fall/early winter coat”, ASM #3 is from ASM female taxidermy mount I-B-27 in off site storage, ASM #4 is from the ASM education collection, ASM #5 is from the education collection as an old slide with a leather cover, ASM #6 is from an old ASM conservation lab reference set, ASM #7 is from and old ASM conservation lab slide labeled “winter caribou”, ASM #8 is from the Juneau-Douglas City Museum touchboard.

 Round to oval in cross section.  Cellular walls are very thin.  There is a sub-cuticle layer of smaller cells whose edges line up with the edges of the surface scales, and then larger internal medulla cells, with one to three of these bridging the large internal gap.  Images suggest large abutting chambers with thin gauzy walls.  They refer to the structure as “bubble wrap.”  (Meeks and Cartwright 2005) Can be difficult to sample without pulling up bits of skin.

Troubleshooting:  Cusp-like or faceted gemstone look to the honeycomb medulla seems to distinguish caribou from other hoofed Alaskan animals.  Also, scales only two across seems to be special.  Maximum width of hair only 275 microns is smaller than maximum width for moose, deer or elk.

Range: Interior and North Slope only.  Caribou is the only cervid species native to the Aleutian Islands (Hall 1981).  Introduced to the Seward Peninsula between 1892 and 1902 (Dau et al. 2000).  Caribou prefer treeless tundra and mountains but some herds winter in the boreal forest (taiga)  (ADF&G 2008)

Names: Order Artiodactyla (the even-toed ungulates) Family Cervidae (the cervids.) Domesticated caribou are also known as reindeer in the United States, but the word “reindeer” is also used for wild caribou in Europe. Of the seven subspecies, Alaska has only the barren-ground caribou  (ADF&G 2008).

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