Bison | Exploring the World of Wildlife: facts about the Bison

Bisons are the original inhabitants of the American prairies. They dominated these territories undividedly for tens of thousands of years. Indian tribes, who hunted these majestic animals, did not cause significant damage to bison herds until the arrival of Europeans, who immediately appreciated the meat and skins of these wild bulls.

Wild buffalo once roamed throughout North America in huge herds. But now only a few tens of thousands remain of the thirty-million-strong population that lives in Yellowstone National Park. All other bison are residents of farms, where they are specifically bred for their hides and meat.

Fact number one.

The ancestors of the modern bison moved to the Americas from South Asia, crossing an ancient land bridge that once connected Asia to North America during the Pliocene era, about 400,000 years ago. These ancient animals were much larger than today’s bison. The prehistoric bison, Bison latiforns, had horns 2.75 meters from tip to tip!

Fact number two.

Bison are easily recognized by their muscular build, shoulder hump, and slender hind limbs. Both male and female bison have short, pointed, hollow horns growing on the sides of their massive heads. The curved horns point upwards. The head, neck, forelimbs, and front of the body are covered with a thick coat of long, dark hair.

The adult male also has a black barb about 30 cm long. The rear part of the body is covered with much shorter hair. The head has the thickest hair, which provides excellent insulation during heavy snowstorms.

Fact number three.

Bisons communicate through grunts (to maintain communication with each other) and snorts (to intimidate opponents). Male bisons demonstrate their physicality by mooing hoarsely, lowering their heads low and demonstratively digging up the ground. But they rarely fight to the death. Bisons have excellent hearing and sense of smell, but they can’t see well, so the whole herd will rush to a panicked flight if they are frightened.

Fact number four.

Bisons are year-round grazing animals. Their diet includes grasses, flowering plants, lichens, and leaves of woody plants. In the winter, bison bob their heads from side to side to clear the snow in search of grass. On average, bison eat up to 1.6 percent of their body weight in a day of dry vegetation. They also need water every day.

Fact number five.

Bison tend to graze in groups, organized by sex, age, season and habitat. Older individuals are often left alone. Both females and males live in a dominance hierarchy that is established at an early age. For most of the year, females and their young form small groups, and immature males may also join them. Individual groups gather in large herds in spring or autumn in search of food or water. Adult males have their own groups that can reach up to 30 individuals. When bison migrate, they form an oblong line.

Fact number six.

Bisons are skilled swimmers, capable of crossing streams and rivers without difficulty. They are also very maneuverable and can jump over high fences.

Fact number seven.

Females become sexually mature at the age of 2-3 years. Although males reach maturity at about three years of age, they usually don’t breed until they are six years old. The mating season lasts from late June to September, and pregnancy can last about 285 days. Breeding bulls will protect their chosen females and, with little time to eat, can lose more than 90 pounds during the breeding season.

Fact number eight.

Bison calves are usually born between late March and May and have an orange-red coat color, for which they have been nicknamed «red dogs.» After a few months, their coat changes to a dark brown color and the horns and shoulder tubercle begin to grow.

Fact number nine.

Bisons roll around in dust and dirt to keep cool and get rid of annoying insect bites. Males also roll around on the ground during mating season to leave behind their musky scent and demonstrate their strength.

Fact number ten.

It is estimated that between 30 and 100 million bison roamed the Great Plains before 1800. But by the 1980s, fewer than 1,000 remained. Many were killed because of the U.S. government’s attempt to destroy the Plains Indians’ food sources. Although the American bison population has since recovered, the species is still considered endangered.

Yellowstone National Park is the only place in the U.S. where bison have been resident since prehistoric times. In all, the state maintains 17 herds of bison — or about 10,000 individuals — in 12 states, including Alaska. Another 500,000 or so are kept as livestock.

National Bison Day in the United States is celebrated annually on the first Saturday in November. It commemorates the economic, cultural, historical, and economic contributions of the American bison to the country.

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