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Introduction to Bison

Bison is one of the world’s most iconic animals, popularly known as the American buffalo. It is the largest land mammal in North America and is an integral part of the United States’ cultural heritage. Bison can be found across the continent, from Canada through Mexico, from the northern plains down to the southwestern states. These magnificent animals are great symbols of the continent, as well as its long-standing history.

Bison were once abundant in North American, numbering 30 to 60 million, but due to human’s activities, like hunting and habitat loss, their populations decreased drastically over the centuries. By the late 1800s, bison were almost eradicated. Their numbers have since rebounded due to conservation efforts, and the current US population is estimated between 500,000 and one million, split between two subspecies: the Plains bison and the Wood bison.

Description of Bison

Bison are large animals, typically weighing up to 2,000 pounds (900 kg). They have a characteristic brownish-black color, with a shaggy coat of fur on their neck and shoulder. The size and shape of their heads are extremely distinctive. Their muzzles are long and broad, with short short-haired fur, and their horns are short and flat. Male bison have thick beards on their neck and shaggy manes on their shoulders.

Both male and female bison also have a muscular hump on their backs. This hump is composed mostly of muscle and helps them move easily over uneven terrain, like snow or swampy land.

Bison are strong and hardy animals that are highly adapted to the North American environment. They are strong swimmers and can endure temperatures up to 50 degree Celsius. They can run at speeds up to 35 miles per hour and can jump over 6 feet in the air.

Bison Habitat and Migration

Bison are found in a variety of habitats across North America, from grasslands and prairies, to boreal forests and tundra. They prefer open habitats that provide abundant forage, like grasses and leaves.

Bison typically form large herds and migrate seasonally. In the summer, they prefer to inhabit cooler habitats, like mountains, and in the winter they seek out warmer habitats. This migration usually takes place at the edges of bison populations—where the range of bison slightly overlap but remain distinct—where they can find a mix of both warmer and cooler habitats.

Bison two

Bison Social Groups

Bison form social groups that can range in size from a dozen to several hundred animals. During mating season the size of these herds can swell to thousands.

Within the herds, there are different social groups, like bulls, cows, and calves. Adults usually stay in the same herd all their lives and bulls tend to form distinct groups. The dominant bull, known as the head bull, leads and defends the group from potential predators or challengers.

In situations of conflict, bison will often use their horns to defend themselves or others. They are also extremely protective of their calves and will fight to protect them if necessary.

Bison’s Role in the Ecosystem

Bison are an important part of their ecosystem. They are herbivores, meaning they graze on grasslands and help keep these habitats healthy and balanced. They also act as an important food source for large predators, like wolves and bears.

Bison also have a significant impact on their environment through their activities. As they graze, they help create pockets of land that are warm and moist, by scattering and breaking up the earth. These pockets, also known as wallows, can turn into ponds that provide shelter to aquatic animals and are important habitats for insects and amphibians.


Bison are an iconic part of the North American landscape and a symbol of the continent’s heritage and history. The symbiotic relationship between bison and their environment is a crucial part of maintaining North America’s ecological integrity, making it immensely important to protect these majestic animals. With conservation efforts, like the reintroduction of bison in to Canada’s national parks, their populations are slowly increasing and with any luck, these iconic species will continue to grace the North American grasslands for generations to come.

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