The American bison is the
largest living land animal native to North
America. Adult bulls average 10-12½ feet in
length from the tip of its nose to the end of its
short tail, stands 5½-6 feet at the shoulders,
and weighs 1,600-2,000 pounds; cows are much
smaller, rarely weighing more than 900 pounds.
Both sexes have horns, which on males can be up
to 35 inches across. The coat color is generally
brownish-black, but tends to be more brown on the
hind part. Long, coarse hair covers the head,
neck, and shoulder hump, and forms a
"beard" on the throat and chin. Bison
have poor eyesight, but acute hearing and an
excellent sense of smell.
Although it is often called a
buffalo, the American bison is not even in the
same sub-family as true buffalo, a name that
zoologists reserve for the water buffalo of Asia
and the cape buffalo
of southern Africa. The American bison is
distinguished from buffalo by its broad, massive
head, short, thick neck, prominent shoulder hump,
and relatively small hindquarters; it also has 14
pairs of ribs, as opposed to the 13 of buffalo.
Distribution and Habitat
Bison historically ranged
throughout the grasslands and open savannas of
North America, from northern Canada into central
Mexico, and once roamed in herds numbering in the
thousands. Extensive hunting in the mid-1800's
all but exterminated the species, however, and by
the end of the 1800's there were almost no bison
left in the wild. Fortunately a few dedicated
conservationists managed to save a few small
herds and preserve the species. While there are
no truly wild bison herds left, there are
numerous privately maintained herds on private
and protected lands in the western United States
Habits and Behaviors
Bison are very social animals,
and where possible congregate in large herds.
These herds are usually broken up into smaller
groups according to age and sex.
Bison may appear to be rather
slow, awkward and somewhat lazy, but are actually
capable of running at speeds of up to 35 miles
per hour and can traverse long distances at a
fairly quick "gallop." They are also
very quick-tempered and have been known to attack
anyone or anything with no warning and for no
In the wild bison feed almost
exclusively on grass, which is pulled up rather
than bitten off. When grass is less plentiful
they will also feed on small plants, twigs, and
some bark. "Domesticated" bison will
eat hay and other forage, but still require a
steady supply of fresh grasses to stay healthy.
The breeding season runs from
late June through September, during which time
dominant bulls will attempt to restrict access to
small groups of females. A single yellowish-brown
calf is born after a gestation of about 285 days.
The calf typically weighs between 30 and 70 days,
and can walk and feed on its own within a few
hours of birth. It is weaned at about seven
months, becomes independent at one year, and will
be sexually mature at three years.
The average life span of a bison in the wild
is 15-20 years, but it is not uncommon for an
individual to live as long as 30 years or so.
genus & species Bison bison
Animal Diversity Web http://animaldiversity.org/site/accounts/information/Bison_bison.html
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