10 Incredible Bison Facts

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Updated: August 21, 2023
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There are two species of bison— the American bison (B. bison) native to North America and the European bison (B. bonasus) native to Europe. They belong to the Bovidae family, comprising cattle, goats, sheep, buffalo, and gazelle. Bison can grow up to six feet tall and weigh 701 to 2,500 pounds. Generally, the males weigh more than the females.

10 Bison Facts
Wild bison can be seen at Yellowstone National Park.

Bison have numerous incredible physical characteristics, like a prominent shoulder hump and deep, long, brown furs. They have large heads with thick skulls and short, curved horns. If you wish to see wild bison, Yellowstone National Park in the USA and Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada are your best bets.

If you wish to learn more remarkable bison facts, let’s get the ball rolling.

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1. The Bison Is North America’s Largest Mammal

Tallest Animals: American Bison

American Bison, the largest mammal in North America help to maintain a healthy and balanced ecosystem by aerating the soil with their hooves and disperse native seeds.

©O.S. Fisher/Shutterstock.com

Bison, the United States national mammal, is the largest land mammal in North America. Besides being the largest mammal, the bison is among North America’s top ten largest animals. It makes a list alongside the bowhead whale, humpback whale, gray whale, moose, Canadian horse, American crocodile, polar bear, and musk ox. The right whale is the largest animal in North America, weighing up to 155,000  pounds.

2. A Baby Bison Has A Nickname — Red Dog

Calf and Mother Bison

Bison calves have reddish fur and are called “red dogs.”

©Marcia Straub/Shutterstock.com

A baby bison is a calf whose nickname is “red dog.” That’s because, unlike the dark brown fur colors the adults have, a baby bison is born with cinnamon or reddish-brown hairs. Their furs begin to turn dark brown, and they start developing shoulder humps and horns after two or three months. Bison calves weigh about 30-70 pounds at birth and can stand/run only a few hours after taking their first breath. The red dog’s primary predators are bears, wolves, and mountain lions.

3. Bison Tails Can Tell Their Mood

Bison crossing the road

Calm bison let their tails hang loosely.

©iStock.com/Joseph Tointon

While dogs are famous for conveying a wide range of emotions with their tails, they’re not the only animals who do this. For instance, bison are typically unpredictable but can convey their moods through their tail. When bison are calm, one will find their tails hanging loosely downwards as it waggles naturally.

However, a standing bison tail may signify they’re about to charge. So, if you ever encounter a bison with a standing tail, exercise caution.

4. People Mistake Bison For Buffalo 

buffalo with two white egrets on the neck,Chobe,Botswana

Bison are often mistaken for buffalo.

©Karel Gallas/Shutterstock.com

You’re not alone if you’ve been wondering whether bison is another name for buffalo. However, bison and buffalo are not the same, even if many people use them interchangeably in North America.

First, it’s vital to note that buffalo only live in Africa and Asia, where they’re referred to as water or cafe buffalo. So, if you find a “buffalo” anywhere in North America, it’s probably a bison.

There are many more significant differences between both animals. For example, buffalo have more prominently curved horns and smaller heads than bison. Again, bison weigh much more than buffalo and live in grasslands, while buffalo have woodlands as a habitat.

5. Bison Almost Went Extinct Once 

There are 5,000 bison in Yellowstone National Park – thanks in part to Teddy Roosevelt.

©Michael Hinkle/Shutterstock.com

While American Bison is a near-threatened species, they were once on the verge of extinction in the 1800s. Around 1884, there were only about 325 Bison left in the world. 

Meanwhile, before that time, there were millions of bison on the continent. Bison have significantly reduced due to hunting, drought, and diseases. Fortunately, they escaped extinction due to efforts from the Westward expansion. 

Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president of the USA, once traveled to the Dakota territory for bison hunting. A few years later, he returned to New York City with a new plan—to save bison. So, he formed the American Bison Society, a conservation movement, in 1905, alongside William Hornaday, an American zoologist. About 15,000 bison roam wild and free in the USA, while one can find about 5,000 in Yellowstone National Park. This park helped significantly in restoring the bison population.

6. Bison Are As Fast As They’re Big 

American Bison

Bison may look sluggish – but they can run up to 35 miles per hour!

©Grey Mountain Photo/Shutterstock.com

Although bison are large mammals that look slow and sluggish, they’re fast and agile in reality. Despite how heavy they are, they can run up to 35 miles per hour. That’s faster than the average human! They can also run faster than horses, especially those with a rider. Bison also make good swimmers and have incredible spinning and jumping abilities. Unfortunately, many tourists have sustained injuries from bison because they underrated their agility and speed.

7. Bison Have Remarkably Thick Coats

European Bison

Bison’s thick covering is highly effective in protecting them from cold and snow.

©Szczepan Klejbuk/Shutterstock.com

Bison have incredibly thick coats comprising a thick hide and two hair layers to protect them from winter’s extreme temperatures. They have significantly more hair than cattle, and thick coats provide insulation as they don’t burn calories to keep them warm. Bison’s thick covering is highly effective in protecting them from cold and snow.

8. People Eat Bison Meat 

Bison Tenderloin on white plate setting with salad garnishes

Bison meat is leaner than beef.


Bison, just like cattle, make nutritious sources of protein and minerals for many people. Besides their similarity in nutritional value, beef, and bison meat have similar tastes that may be difficult to distinguish in a meal. However, bison meat and beef are different in some ways. First, beef has more calories and fat than bison meat, so bison may be a healthier alternative to beef. Secondly, bison meat is more tender than beef because of its low-fat content.

9. Bison Play Key Roles In Maintaining The Balance Of The Ecosystem 

Bison herd in Yellowstone National Park

American Bison, the largest mammal in North America help to maintain a healthy and balanced ecosystem by aerating the soil with their hooves and dispersing native seeds.


Bison are grazing animals, so they primarily feed on native grass. As they graze, they turn up the soil with their hooves and fertilize it with their droppings. Bison also help the insect population by helping the plants they feed on flourish. In a nutshell, bison are beneficial in maintaining and diversifying the ecosystem.

10. Bison Roll in the Dirt for Several Reasons 

Two wild wood bison grazing in Alaska national park.

Bison, like other animals, sometimes wallow in the dirt to fend off fleas.

©Photo Spirit/Shutterstock.com

If you’ve ever seen a bison wallow or roll in the dirt, they aren’t just doing so for the fun of it. They do this to enhance fur shedding and protect themselves from flies’ bites. One may also find bison wallowing during mating season to improve their chances of finding a mate.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Jillian Cooper

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