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Facts about the American Bison

Scholasticus K
The American bison was a very useful animal for the Amerindian tribes who thrived on its skin, fur, meat, and even bones. This noble beast who roams the wilderness of the North American Continent is the national wealth of North America. This post provides some facts about the American bison.

Relative of

Although the American bison looks more like a buffalo, it is a closer relative of the cow and the goat.
Although the bison is also known as the American buffalo, there is a significant difference between both these animals. The basic difference between the bison and the buffalo is that the former is found only on the North American continent, whereas the latter is found in Asia and Africa.
Another significant difference is the fur on the body. The buffalo has very short hair on its skin, whereas the bison is often described as a shaggy animal having longer hair on its body. It is also comparatively larger in size. Given below are some more facts about the American buffalo.


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family: Bovidae
  • Genus: Bison
  • Species: B. bison


● The American bison's fur is shaggy and brown in color. This animal has two curved, black-colored horns on its head that are very strong. A single blow from these natural weapons can prove to be fatal.
The horns are very sharp and can grow up to 2-feet long. The average weight of this animal is between 930 to 2200 lb., with the males being larger than the females. Its height is generally between 5 to 6 feet, while the length of its body is between 7 to 11 feet. Its tail is 20 to 23 inches long.
● The bison also has a typical hump on its back.
This hump is supported by the vertebrae and made up of many muscles, enabling the animal to push snow out of its path while walking. The coat is very warm and insulating. It protects the animal from extremely cold weather. The average lifespan of this mammal is 12 to 20 years in the wild, which can go up to 30 years in captivity.

Habitat and Distribution

● This mammal lives in prairie lands and plains. It also prefers grasslands that are completely or moderately open, lands that are semi-arid, and scrublands.
It can even be found in areas that are lightly or moderately woody for grazing. It is known to generally prefer areas that are at lower altitudes.
● The bison is only found on the North American continent. Before the drastic fall in its population due to hunting and diseases, it existed in many places like Canada, some states in Mexico, Georgia, New York, etc. However, now, its numbers in the wild have dwindled greatly.
The largest herd of the bison is currently housed by the Yellowstone National Park.


● The diet of this animal is a herbivorous one. It mainly feeds on plain grass. It also consumes herbs, shrubs, and twigs that grow on the plains.
It always needs a source of water nearby. The food is at times regurgitated and again chewed as cud before the actual digestion.


● The mating period is between June to September. During this time, males engage in head-butting contests to win the attention of a particular female. Some males are even known to "tend" to females, in which the male follows a particular female around everywhere until she decides to mate.
These "tending" males are also known to shield the females' eyes with their bodies so that the females cannot see the other competing males. The tending male and other competing males also engage in bellowing matches. Male bison do not play any role in bringing up their young.
● The female gives birth to one calf after nine months of pregnancy in the month of April or May. The color of the calf's coat is between light brown to reddish.
It is not born with the hump on its back. The hump and horns as well as the dark brown color of the coat develop after a few months. The female nurses the calf for 8 to 9 months, and it generally becomes independent after one year of age.
The bison is a very affectionate animal. A bond of deep affection always exists between the mother and her calf, even after they have parted ways.


● To survive in the wilderness of North America, the American bison has to beware of two dangers: nature and man. As winter sets in and the temperature starts dropping, the bison starts developing a thicker coat of fur. However, it does not migrate or hibernate during winter. It adapts to the weather and the surroundings.
● The food on the grasslands gets sparse, and the bison has to depend on the fat stored under its skin for survival. It is also able to adapt equally well to the summer season, wherein it sheds its furry coat in order to remain cool.

Threat by Man

● In the 19th century, about 50 million bison were killed by the settlers either for their meat, fur, or as a sport. Sometimes, the settlers wiped out thousands of herds so as to deprive the Amerindians of their meat and fur, or indirectly their livelihood.
Due to this, the once-enormous population of the American buffalo reduced to a mere few hundreds. It is then that the government and people of North America stepped forward to save the beast from becoming extinct.

Natural Predators

● Despite its size, the bison has a few predators in the wild. It is very commonly attacked by mountain lions and wolves. These predators tend to target the bison calves due to their small size and less strength, and very old bison due to their decreased physical power and diminished running speed.

Population and Conservation

● From the 20 to 30 million bison that roamed the earth in the 19th century, today only about 500,000 remain, residing on ranches and in national parks, according to the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species.
The list also states that there are less than 15,000 bison living in their natural habitat without any fencing. Many bison ranches have come up across North America in order to transform this creature into a domestic animal.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has now classified American bison under the 'Near Threatened' category.
● The efforts that the people of North America have taken to protect and preserve the bison have helped save this magnificent animal from becoming extinct.

A Symbol

● The bison was considered as a sacred animal and a symbol of religiousness among the Native American tribe of the Plains Indians.
This was because the animal proved to be useful to these people in many ways, like for making covers for their teepees, making weapons, utensils, shields, and for such other purposes.
● Even today, the bison is used as an official symbol in many places. It featured on a coin known as the 'buffalo nickel', which was minted from 1913 to 1938.
● The state quarter of Kansas features one bison, whereas that of North Dakota features two.
The bison is the official state mammal of the Great Plains states of Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
● Some educational institutions that have adopted this animal as their mascot include Gallaudet University, Buffalo Grove High School, and Howard University. The athletic teams of the North Dakota State University are collectively called the North Dakota State Bison.
The bison is a symbol of speed and strength. In spite of a threat to its life from man or nature itself, this grand and majestic beast has survived the test of time and still roams the wilderness of its homeland.