The worldwide symbols for strength, perseverance, and determination the bison is one of the sole survivors of the Ice Age. Once one of the biggest populations of animals in North America with 30-60 million in population, the bison is the most rapidly decimated animal species on Earth. These beautiful large animals are often mistaken or incorrectly called buffalo, while in fact the two species are from different parts of the world and are not closely related.
The native of North America and Europe, the bison once roamed much of this great continent, today however they are “ecologically extinct” as a wild species throughout most of their range. They can still be found in a few national parks and small wildlife areas. The bison were known to populate the plains of North America and were inhabitants of grasslands, savannas. Forests, and scrub forests across the land. They could also be found in boreal habitats to semi-desert habitats where grazing was suitable.
Bison was one of the few animals known to live in a variety of elevational ranges. They are currently only found in national parks like Yellowstone Park which has the largest population of wild plain bison (around 4,000).
The bison is from the Bovidae family and has two extant and six extinct species recognized. The American bison and the European bison or wisent are the only recognized living animals. The American bison as the name indicates is found in North America, in USA and Canada. There are two subspecies of the American bison called wood bison (B. b. athabascae) the larger of the two with a taller and square hump. The second subspecies is the plains bison (B. b. bison), smaller in size with a more rounded hump.
The European bison also known as wisent or the European wood bison is a Eurasian species of bison. This species of bison used to have three subspecies that existed in history, but today only one remains. The wisent is theoretically the result of hybridization between the now extinct Steppe bison (Bison priscus) and the ancestors of the aurochs (Bos primigenius). This possible hybrid is referred to informally as the Higgs bison.
These large beauties are herbivores, meaning they only eat vegetation. Bison are known grazers, who feed on plains grasses, herbs, sedges, leaves, shrubs, and twigs. They can regurgitate their food and chew it as cud before final digestion. The bison can consume and store a good bit of food as their large size and movements consume a lot of energy.
The bison species vary in size and shape of body. The American bison stands around 5 to 6.5 feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh in at around a ton or 1,000 kilograms. The large and heavy body however is supported by a great amount of muscle that allows these animals to reach up to 40 kilometers per hour, when needed. They have curved and sharp horns that can grow up to 2 feet long.
The European bison has 14 pairs of ribs, compared to the 13 of the American bison. They are also on average taller than their American counterparts. The differences do not stop there. The wisent has longer legs, their necks are set differently and their nose is set further forward than their forehead when in a neutral position. Also, the wisent is less hairy on the body and hairier on the tail, and their horns are shaped forward through the plane of their faces.
Bison’s Behavior & Life Cycle
Bison are known for roaming great distances and can move continuously as they eat. The female bison or cow is the leader of the family group. The male bison or the bull joins the groups during mating season. These animals are very well adapted to the extreme weather conditions of the Great Plains. Bison are herd animals and but are not social animals.
The cow chooses a mate during mating season (June-September). The gestation period is between 270-285 days and the calves are born in April to May. The cow only gives birth to 1 cow at a time. Calf is weaned in 7 to 12 months and gain independence at 1 year. Sexual maturity is reached at 2 to 3 years of age. Most bison live to be 15 to 20 years old in the wild, and have lived up to 40 years in captivity.