Difference Between Elk and Caribou

Main Difference – Elk vs Caribou

Both elk and caribou belong to deer family called Family Cervidae. Other than elk and caribou, the family Cervidae also consists of deer and moose species. There are about 19 genera and 51 species which have been identified so far in the family Cervidae. The members of family Cervidae can be seen throughout the most parts of New World and in Asia, Europe, and northwestern Africa. The most recognizable characteristic of these members is the presence of antlers; antlers are mostly seen in males and rarely in some females. Antlers are unique to this family and are made of bones, unlike horns, which are made of keratin. The size, shape and the texture of antlers vary widely among the species of this Family. Antlers have usually branched and horn-like structures. Unlike female elk, female caribou develops antlers during the later stages of their life. This is the main difference between elk and caribou.

This article elaborates more about,
     1. Elk
          – Facts, Characteristics, and Behaviour
     2. Caribou
          – Facts, Characteristics, and Behaviour
     3. Difference Between Elk and Caribou
          – Size, Antlers and other Features, Migratory Behaviour

Difference between Elk and Caribou - Comparison Summary (1)

Elk  -Facts, Characteristics, and Behaviour

Elk or wapiti is among the largest living mammals on earth and is found in both lowland forests and forest-mountain habitats. In addition, they also prefer to stay near lakes, marshes and bushlands. They are mainly nocturnal and solitary animals and prefer to feed during twilight and dawn. Although elks are endemic to North America and eastern Eurasia, they have been introduced to certain other countries like Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, where they are well adapted to live. They mainly feed on grasses, forbs, sedges and shrubs. An adult male can be 56 to 68 inches in height at withers and may weigh up to 650 to 830 lbs. Males are larger than their female counterparts. They have a prominent mane in the neck, moderately prominent ears, a naked nose, a short tail and well developed facial glands. Adult males have huge, branched wide antlers while younger males have small antlers. Females do not have antlers. Antlers are shed in winter and renewed during spring and summer. Both males and females have a noticeable upper canine tooth. Their coat has the colors of brown, yellowish grey or pale brown. Males are more aggressive during the mating season and combat with other rival males to defend females. During these combats, they assess their antler size, body size, and fighting powers. If both bulls are in equal in strength, they will mostly end up with serious injuries.

Main Difference - Elk vs Caribou

Caribou – Facts, Characteristics, and Behaviour

Caribou or reindeer is another large deer found mainly across the arctic tundra and boreal forest areas of North America and Eurasia. They mainly inhabit in forests, preferably in swamps, muskegs, and bogs. They primarily feed on lichens and mosses and occasionally eat grasses, shrubs and other vegetation by grazing. An adult caribou has a body size in between a large deer and a small elk. They have a short rounded nose, which is not completely covered with short hairs, small ears, short tails and large feet with well-developed toes and broad hoofs. Both males and females have antlers. Their general body color is dark grey or brownish grey with white patches underneath the tail, on forehead, neck, abdomen, and edging around the feet. Their coat consists of hollow hair and covers the entire body enabling them to survive in harsh winter climates. An adult can be 34 to 62 inches tall at withers, and may weigh about 355-400 lbs. Male caribous are larger than their female counterparts. Caribous are solitary animals and do not make wide migrations. Males are more aggressive and often fight with other bulls to defend females. Antlers are huge with more prongs, and they shed antlers every year. The antlers of caribous are the second largest antlers among cervids that second only to moose’s antlers.

Difference Between Elk and Caribou

Difference Between Elk and Caribou

Male and Female

 Only Elk males have antlers.

 Both male and female Caribou have antlers.


An adult Elk male can be 56 to 68 inches in height at withers and may weigh up to 650 to 830 lbs.

An adult Caribou can be 34 to 62 inches tall at withers, and may weigh about 355-400 lbs.

An adult elk is larger than an adult caribou.


Elk’s antler is smaller than caribou’s antler.

Caribou’s antler is larger than Elk’s antler.

Unlike in elk, caribou has a prominent prong arising from the antler that extends over their nose.


Elk makes extensive migrations.

Caribou does not migrate large distances.


Elk has naked hair.

Caribou’s  nose is entirely covered with short hair.

Unlike in elk, caribou has a prominent prong arising from the antler that extends over their nose.


Elk’s neck color is dark brown.

Caribou’s neck color is white.


1. Feldhamer, G., & McShea, W. (n.d.). Deer: The Animal Answer Guide. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press. Available
2. Hummel, M., & Ray, J. (2008). Caribou and the North. Toronto: Dundurn Press. Available
3. Deer. (2004). In The Encyclopedia of Animals: A complete visual guide. University of California Press. Available
Image Courtesy:
1. “Three Elk (8001589189)” by Rennett Stowe from USA – Three ElkUploaded by russavia. via
2. “Caribou” by Dean Biggins (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) – US FWS, DIVISION OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, WO3772-023. (Public Domain) via  

About the Author: Yashoda

Yashoda has been a freelance writer in the field of biology for about four years. He is an expert in conducting research related to polymer chemistry and nano-technology. He holds a B.Sc. (Hons) degree in Applied Science and a Master of Science degree in Industrial Chemistry.

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