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Arctic Adaptations
These Feet are Made for Walking
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Although not elegant, the caribou's feet are beautifully designed. With each step, the caribou's weight spreads onto large, concave hooves. Like 2 sets of snowshoes, these hooves help keep the caribou from sinking into the deep snow. The feet also work like scoops, which the caribou uses to dig for food. When in water, they serve as paddles for swimming. Caribou are even named after their feet! The word "caribou" is believed to come from the Micmac word "xalibu, which means "pawer" or shoveler".

Click-clack Noisemakers
Arctic caribou
Catherine Tumberg Gov't NWT

Although caribou are generally silent animals, they make a unique clicking sound, sort of like castanets, when they walk. This sound is due to tendons that roll around a small bone in their foot.But wait, caribou biologists tell us that young caribou are different! Our caribou Expert, Don Russell of the Canadian Wildlife Service in Whitehorse, Yukon shares this about the subject:

"Young calves do not 'click.' This holds for reindeer and caribou and thus for the Porcupine Caribou Herd. No one can say at what age the clicking starts. I contacted the Large Animal Research Station at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, to follow up on this. This year's calves- now 6 months old, still don't 'click.' The researchers will make observations throughout the winter to determine when they first click - they are curious as well!"

Journaling Questions

  1. The caribou's clicking sound can be heard when they move. What might some of the disadvantages of this be?
  2. In what ways would it be helpful for the caribou to make the clicking sound?
  3. The babies don't have the noise-making capabilities. List some ways this could be an advantage, or a disadvantage.

One author describes the sound of caribou migration, "Like the timekeeping ticking of a thousand metronomes, the clicking of the caribou's ankle bones counts cadence for the marchers. The mass moves with a single mind, following a route trod by countless generations."