Differences Between Deer, Elk, Moose and Reindeer

By Janhvi Johorey, Psychologist specialized in animal therapy. Updated: June 17, 2018
Differences Between Deer, Elk, Moose and Reindeer

Hiking through isolated mountain forests, deer tracks are a common enough occurrence. But how do you distinguish a deer from an elk, moose or reindeer? Around the globe, 47 species constitute the taxonomic family Cervidae, which includes the small roe deer and the majestic elk, reindeer and moose, ranging from 20 to 1,800 pounds in weight. Deer, elk, moose and reindeer are all ungulate ruminant herbivores.

While male deer are called bucks and female deer are called does, male moose, elks and reindeer are called bulls and females of the three species are called cows. In some regions, males of all types are called stags and females are called hinds.

The largest deer, elk and reindeer can look quite similar. In order to help you tell them apart, in this AnimalWised article we'll go over the main differences between deer, elk, moose and reindeer. Read on!

You may also be interested in: Types of Deer Around the World

What are deer like?

There are several genera of deer, including Axis, Cervus, Dama, Elaphodus and Muntiacus. We cannot say that elk, moose and reindeer are different from deer because they are all deer species. However, they are not referred to by the generic name "deer". Deer can be found all over the world, except for Oceania and Antarctica.

In North America, you can find deer, reindeer, moose and elk or wapitis. The smallest of the four is the deer, of which you can find two different native species: the mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Here you can learn more about the differences between mule deer and white-tailed deer.

In general, white-tailed deer are smaller, maturing at anywhere between 100 and 300 lb (45 to 135 kg). They can move at speeds of up to 30 mi/h (50 km/h), and they are able to clear 10-foot (3 m) fences!

The range of deer includes forests, desert areas, and grasslands. Deer grow long, forked, pointed and/or curved antlers during spring and summer, and they shed them through winter. Deer sounds are few and extremely rare.

If you are in a relatively low latitude and you see a cervid moving fast and jumping gracefully, it is a deer and not an elk or a reindeer. Here you can learn more about what do white-tailed deer eat.

Differences Between Deer, Elk, Moose and Reindeer - What are deer like?

What are elk like?

Elk (Cervus canadensis), called wapiti in Europe, are one of the largest deer species. Their shoulders rise about 5 ft (1.5 m) from the ground, and the male's antlers can reach up to 4 feet (1.2 m) above the head, which gives them a total of 9 feet (2.75 m) in height. Elk can range from 500 to 1,300 pounds (225 to 600 kg): males are larger than females.

Elk reside in mountainous forests across North America (except from the northernmost regions) and East Asia; they can usually be found along the forest edges. In America, they have adapted to living in desert and semi-desert regions such as the Great Plains. They travel in large herds, which can number a 1,000 individuals, and they can run at 45 mi/h (70 km/h).

Their necks are shaggy, which makes them easy to identify from other deer species. Their coat color and thickness changes depending on the climate, although they usually have dark necks and pale rumps.

Another key difference between elk and deer, moose and reindeer is that male elk have a loud, high-pitched bugle which they sound during the morning and evening. On the other hand, deer only make occasional bleats. There are also differences in diet: elks are browsers while deer are grazers.

Differences Between Deer, Elk, Moose and Reindeer - What are elk like?

What are reindeer like?

Caribou or reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) are similar in size to elk, also reaching 5 ft (1.5) to the withers and 6 ft 6 (2 m) long. While they are large animals, their body weight varies from 175 to 460 pounds (80 to 210 kg).

Both male and female reindeer grow antlers, which makes them easy to differentiate reindeer from other types of deer. Fur color varies among individuals and subspecies: northern reindeer are lighter as opposed to their southern counterparts.

Reindeer live in mountainous forests, but also in sub-Arctic boreal forests and tundra regions. The further north you are, the likelier it is you are seeing a reindeer and not a moose or an elk. Like elk, reindeer live in large herds. They reside in North America and Eurasia, and there are different subspecies based on their geographical range. Of course, reindeer play a key role at Christmas.

The main differences between elk and reindeer is that the former are heavier, while the latter's have larger antlers relative to their body size. Moreover, a reindeer's antlers are covered in velvet, while an elk's are not.

Differences Between Deer, Elk, Moose and Reindeer - What are reindeer like?

What are moose like?

Moose (Alces alces) are called elks in Europe, which makes them easy to confuse with elks or wapitis. However, their flat, wide antlers and strange-looking bulky face differentiates them from the other types of deer.

Moose are the largest deer species in the world. If you see a deer that's more than 6 ft 9 (2 m) at the withers, it is definitely a moose. The male's antlers are 4 ft 9 (1.5 m) wide. Like elk, moose are browsers and not grazers, which differentiates them from deer.

They live in a similar habitat as elks and reindeer, although they prefer temperate and cool climates and forests. They do not leave in herds: moose are solitary animals. While the different types of deer have a wider geographical reach, moose can be found in the northern regions of North America, especially in Canada and Alaska, the coldest regions of Europe, especially in Scandinavia and the Baltic republics, and some areas of Russia and China.

Differences Between Deer, Elk, Moose and Reindeer - What are moose like?

Now that you know the main differences between deer, elk, moose and reindeer in size and habitat, don't miss the following articles:

In the last picture you can see a male elk.

If you want to read similar articles to Differences Between Deer, Elk, Moose and Reindeer, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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