- The largest bison ever recorded worldwide was a gigantic bull that weighed 3,800 pounds and stood seven feet tall.
- On average, male bison (bulls) weigh about 2,000 pounds and are six feet tall.
Yellowstone National Park has been a home for bison since prehistoric times. In the 1880s, over 60 million of these creatures roamed North America. The population of bison in this park was estimated at 5,450 in 2021 — the highest population on public land.
While some people confuse bison with buffaloes, there are slight differences between them. Here is what distinguishes them:
- Bison are found in North America and some parts of Europe, while buffaloes are mainly found in South Asia and Africa.
- Bison have a hump on their shoulder to allow their head to function as a plow, but buffaloes don’t.
- Bison have shorter and sharp horns, while buffalo horns are large.
- Bison have thick beards, while buffaloes are beardless.
The Largest Bison Ever Recorded Worldwide
The largest bison ever recorded worldwide was a gigantic bull that weighed 3,800 pounds and stood seven feet tall. This bison was living in the New York Zoo and taken to Oklahoma to start repopulating.
What You Need To Know About Bison
On average, male bison (bulls) weigh about 2,000 pounds and are six feet tall. Females weigh over 1,000 pounds and can stand 4-5 feet tall, while their calves weigh 30-70 pounds.
Bison are peaceful animals, but they get aggressive when they feel threatened. Their high speed of up to 35 miles per hour allows them to react quickly to threats. The bulls are more aggressive, especially during the mating season when they compete for mates and fight over territory.
There have been bison attacks reported every year. Between May and June 2022, for example, three people were attacked by bison at Yellowstone National Park. These attacks mainly happen when tourists get too close to take photos of the bison.
How To Avoid A Bison Attack
As we’ve seen above, bison will always attack when they feel threatened or if you’re getting too close to them. Bison are solid and fast. This is what you should do to avoid their attacks.
Know Your Surroundings
Watch for signs of bison activity, including tracks or droppings, as you’re walking on a trail or driving through the open country. If you see or hear bison coming, get off the road or trail and wait until they pass before continuing.
In case they stop and continue staring at you, remain calm. They may not be interested in attacking you. But if they start acting agitated — pawing the ground and snorting — back off slowly without turning your back on them.
Don’t Taunt Or Tease A Bison
Bison are unpredictable. Teasing or taunting them can provoke them, and they may charge you. In the wild, ensure you maintain a safe distance from these animals. If you have to get close to them, do so if you have a guide who knows how to handle such situations.
Do Not Approach A Bison Calf Or Cow With Young
Even if they appear calm, the females may attack if they feel their calves are in danger. Bison cows fiercely defend their offspring against any perceived threat, including wolves, bears, humans, and other predators. Never try to separate a calf from its mother, as it may cause panic and increase the risk of an attack.
How Do Bison Behave?
Usually, bison live in small groups. For example, females with calves live in one herd, while males form small groups.
During the breeding season (which reaches its peak in August), many males will temporarily migrate to the females’ herd, where they’ll start searching for a mate. They’ll have head-butting contests to determine their social dominance.
During reproduction, bison mainly communicate using pheromones, smell, grunts, snorts, and growls. Their gestation period takes nine months. After getting pregnant in the fall, the cows will carry the pregnancy through the winter and early spring. Finally, they give birth in mid-spring, increasing their likelihood of survival the following winter.
The calves are left to be independent by their mothers after one year. In the middle of their first winter, the juveniles are already feeding themselves and have attained the brown color of the adult bison. While the female gets ready to breed at the age of three years, the male takes around six years.
Bison are nomadic grazers who mainly feed on grass, lichens, and flowering plants.
Physical Characteristics of Bison
The main characteristics of a bison include the following:
Thick, Woolly Coats
The bison’s thick shaggy fur coats protect them from low temperatures and harsh winds. Their hairs are hollow and have air to warm the animals during winter. In addition, bison have a thick layer of fat under their skin to provide insulation and for energy storage.
The specialized coats protect bison from sunburn and insect bites. It also helps insulate them to prevent heat loss in cold weather and prevents overheating by trapping air within the hollow hairs.
Bison use their long and sharp horns to defend themselves against predators. The bulls also use them to fight with other males for mating rights or territory. Bison’s horns can grow up to five feet long. A layer of blood vessels and nerves covers the horns to protect them from breaking during fights.
The large ears of the bison help in keeping it cool. When the bison is overheated, the blood vessels in its ears dilate, allowing heat to dissipate.
The large ear surface keeps moisture from building up and causing pain or irritation. In addition, the ears’ shape protects the bison from injuries when fighting with other animals or rubbing against trees and shrubs.
A Strong Sense Of Smell
Bison can sense danger from a long distance through their smell. They’ll stamp their feet when they detect danger to alert other bison nearby that there’s trouble ahead. The strong sense of smell allows bison to escape predators quickly, limiting their vulnerable time.
Bison can see greater distances than most animals and distinguish shapes and shades of color. As a result, they can detect predators in time and escape by running.
Bison’s eyes are set wide apart to give them a good field of vision in both directions. The large sockets make the eyes appear small compared to other animals of similar size, but the eyes themselves are more prominent.
What Threatens Bison Today?
Bison are a resilient species and are not at risk of extinction. But they face severe threats to their survival and quality of life in the wild.
The main threats to bison include habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and commercial hunting.
Bison’s population has been diminishing due to habitat loss. The human population is the leading cause of habitat loss. As more people move into bison territories, the animals have less space to roam, forcing them to fight for territory, which can lead to death.
Additionally, it makes it harder for bison to get food and water when they need them most.
Human development has also contributed to bison’s habitat loss. As a result, there needs to be more land left for the bison population to travel across and get food.
Bison are highly susceptible to pollution. The two major types that affect them are water and air pollution.
The leading causes of water pollution include
- Run-off from agricultural fields and cities
- Acid rain
Air pollution can come from various sources, but the primary cause is vehicles that emit carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. These gasses have detrimental effects on the environment and the bison since they affect their health and well-being.
Climate change has a direct impact on the future of bison. The rise in temperatures can lead to droughts, reducing food sources for herds. Additionally, higher temperatures may reduce habitat quality by increasing soil erosion and reducing water sources.
They have low genetic variability making it hard for them to adapt to changing environmental conditions. As a result, they’re more susceptible to extinction than other species with more excellent adaptability abilities.
Poachers hunt bison for their meat, horns, and hides. Their meat is consumed by humans and used to make dog food and fertilizer.
The hides are used to make leather products like shoes, wallets, and handbags. Commercial hunting has the following effects:
- Reduced population
- Threatened genetic diversity
- Threatened habitat integrity by removing vital species from the ecosystem
What Can You Do To Help Save Bison?
The number of bison has been dwindling due to the various causes discussed above. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to save them.
Educate The World
Most people need help understanding what it takes to keep bison safe and healthy. They might be willing to help with efforts if they know more about them. This could include creating awareness among your friends, family members, and others who share your passion for these animals.
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
You can reduce your carbon footprint by using renewable energy sources like solar power or wind. Using green energy sources instead of fossil fuels will reduce greenhouse emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.
Conserve Grasslands And Prairies
In addition to preserving wild populations, protecting the land they live on is vital. Grasslands and prairies are rapidly disappearing due to human development and overgrazing by cattle herds. You can protect grasslands by volunteering at local parks or wildlife refuges so they have more resources for preserving prairie habitats for wildlife and people alike.
How Bison Impact The Ecosystem
Bison are a keystone species that play an essential role in their ecosystem. They have a disproportionate impact on the environment compared to other species within the same ecosystem. Bison have many roles in their ecosystem.
They Build Grasslands
Bison are grazers, and they eat grasses and other plants. Their grazing helps maintain a healthy prairie by preventing it from becoming too dense or overgrown with shrubs and trees. This allows the prairie to continue to support all the different animals and plants that live there.
Grasslands are vital because they shelter many different animals, from insects to large mammals like bison. They also help prevent erosion by holding water in their roots so that it doesn’t run off quickly into streams and rivers, which could cause flooding.
They Promote Healthy Soil
Bison are ruminants that chew food, swallow it, and then regulate it. As a result, they digest lower-quality grasses that other animals can’t digest. This increases the soil’s overall health by promoting healthy bacteria and fungi.
Plus, when they graze, they’re selective eaters, so they help keep certain species of plants healthy while allowing them to grow.
They Are Habitat Makers
Bison create paths through vegetation and fertilize the ground when they urinate and defecate. These paths can lead to increased biodiversity by encouraging the growth of more plants and allowing more sunlight into areas where it might not reach.
They also leave wallows — shallow depressions filled with muddy water — which provide shelter for insects, amphibians, and reptiles.
The bison is a resilient animal that has evolved to survive in various environments. Even in the face of extinction, populations have struggled back from the brink and currently boast a healthy population that continues to grow.
Arizona is located in the southwestern region of the United States and is part of the four corners region, the only location in the United States where four states meet – in the southwest with Utah to the north, Colorado to the northeast, and New Mexico to the east. Arizona is also bordered by California to the west, Utah to the north, New Mexico to the east, Nevada to the northwest, and the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California to the west.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Tim Malek/Shutterstock.com
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