Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Specialty diet

In a shadowed Douglas fir copse near Salmon Point, where the moss lies 6 inches thick over downed logs and up-turned roots, filtered sunlight highlights mounds of reindeer lichen.

In spite of the recent rains, the moss is dry to the touch. Sit on it, though (it feels like the softest cushion), and soon water squeezes upwards from the wet logs underneath.

Individual mound. Away from direct sunlight, the lichen is pale green.

It's called reindeer lichen, because it is a main part of a reindeer's diet. Here in Canada,our reindeer are called caribou. They eat the reindeer lichen, too.

But down this far south, we have no caribou. Does anything eat this lichen? Elk, moose, deer, maybe? The deer that roam our forests, backyards and roadsides? Oh, Google!

No, they don't.

Although other boreal ungulates (including mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, moose and mountain goat) eat lichens, only Rangifer tarandus eat the reindeer lichens. (Hiker's Notebook)

But, but, but ... Everything gets eaten, doesn't it? Well, yes.

Red-backed voles eat horsehair lichen and reindeer lichens. These rodents do not have the complex stomachs found in deer and goats, but they must have a good community of bacterial to help digest all the lichen that they eat. (Juneau Empire)

And, yes, we have red-backed voles here; E-Fauna records them scattered all over BC.

Many other animals eat lichens, but they skip the reindeer lichen. Humans can eat it, but only after it is boiled to remove the toxic acids.


  1. Thank you for this. When it popped up I thought:"Hang on! Canada doesn't have reindeer!"But now I know that Canada's vole can eat it.
    I find it interesting that humans can (and, long ago, did) eat certain things after extensive treatment.Another nugget added to my file.

  2. The reindeer lichen on our cliff if lush and beautiful after our recent rains. So are all the green mosses. - Margy


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