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The American Bison is a bovine animal that is native to North America. They once covered much of the open land east of the Appalachian Mountains from Canada down to Mexico. Prior to Europeans arriving, massive herds roamed the plains of the United States. It is estimated there were over 30 million American bison at one point.
How big do they get?
Bison are surprisingly large and are the largest land animal in North America. The males are larger than the females and can grow to over 6 feet tall, 11 feet long, and can weigh well over 2000 pounds!
Bison have a brown coat. In the winter their coat gets shaggy and long to keep them warm. In the summer it gets lighter so they won't be so hot. They have a large forequarters and head. They also have a hump on their back just before their head. Bison have two horns that can grow up to 2 feet long. The horns are used for defense and fighting among the herd. Both the males and the females grow horns.
What do bison eat?
Bison are herbivores, meaning they eat plants. Mostly they graze on plants growing in the prairies like grasses and sedges. They spend most of the day grazing and then rest while they chew their cud. Then they move to a new spot and repeat the process.
Don't let their docile behavior fool you, however. Bison can be dangerous. They are wild and unpredictable and will attack if they are provoked. They can be deadly, so never get too close to a wild bison.
Are they big and slow?
Yes and no. Bison are huge, but they are very fast. They can actually run faster than a horse and can jump over 6 feet high in the air. So don't think you can outrun a bison if it decides to attack you….you can't.
Are they endangered?
In the 1800s bison were hunted by the thousands. It's estimated that up to 100,000 were killed in a day. They were typically hunted for their coat. By the end of the 1800s bison were nearly extinct. There were only a few hundred left out of the millions that once roamed the prairies.
Since then the bison population has been revived. Some bison roam our national parks such as Yellowstone. Others are bred on ranches. Today the population is over several hundred thousand and the conservation status has been changed from endangered to near threatened.
Fun Facts about Bison
- Bison have no natural predators. Only the weak and sick are in danger from predators.
- Their life span is around 30 years.
- The plural of bison is ..... bison.
- They are often referred to as buffalo or American buffalo.
- There are two kinds of American bison, the wood bison and the plains bison. The wood bison is the larger of the two.
- In the early 1900s the bison was featured on the Buffalo nickel. It returned to the nickel in 2005.
- There is a triple-A baseball team in Buffalo, New York called the Buffalo Bisons.
- The University of Colorado's mascot is the buffalo.
For more about mammals:
African Wild Dog
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