The caribou, also called the reindeer, is a herbivore. During the summer it eats willows and the abundant grasses and flowering plants on the tundra. Winter frost and snow kill the herbaceous plants and cover low growing shrubs cutting off an important food source for the caribou. This large hoofed animal is capable of sniffing out lichens beneath the snow where it will paw away the snow to find its major source of winter food – reindeer lichen.
Lichens are low in protein, high in carbohydrates so it provides the energy caribou need to survive the bitter cold. Caribou are not the only animal that eats lichens in the winter. Muskox and Dall sheep of Alaska, white-tailed deer of North America and the North American moose also eat lichens.
You need not travel to the tundra to see this lichen. I have found this lichen (Cladonia spp.) in the pine barrens of Long Island and here in Florida’s hardwood forests. Outside of the tundra, it often found in dry sandy soiled areas. Be on the lookout for reindeer lichen if you have similar a habitats in your area.