Muskox vs Bison: What Are The Differences?

Written by Colby Maxwell
Updated: November 11, 2022
© Geoffrey Kuchera/
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The muskox and bison are two extremely large cow-like creatures, but do they share any similarities? Even more, many people confuse the two, or simply mistake one for the other. Today, we are going to take a look at the muskox and bison to learn a little about their similarities and differences. Let’s explore: Muskox vs Bison; what makes them unique?

Comparing a Muskox and a Bison

Muskox and bison differ in size, distribution, and preferred habitat.
TaxonomyFamily: Bovidae
Genus: Ovibos
Family: Bovidae
Genus: Bison
SizeHeight: 4-5 feet at the shoulder
Weight: 400-900 lbs
Height: 6-7 feet at the shoulder
Weight: 880-2,500 lbs
AppearanceShort, stocky animals. Long, curved horns. Extremely thick coat with a long skirt.Longer front legs with a rounded shoulder hump. Short horns facing upwards. Thicker hair around head and shoulders.
DistributionNorth America, Greenland, and Eurasia.Two species. American bison are found in North America, while European bison are found in Europe and the Caucasus.
HabitatExtreme arctic climate.Plains and woodlands.

The 5 main differences between a muskox and a bison

The main differences between a muskox and a bison are their size, preferred habitat, and evolutionary history.

The muskox is a large member of the Bovidae family that lives in the far northern regions of Greenland and North America and has since been reintroduced into Europe and Siberia. Muskox gets its name from the musky odor that it emits during the mating season, although its older Inuktitut name translates to “bearded one”. The muskox is large, however, much of its apparent bulk comes from its dense, thick hair that is needed for the harsh winters in the north.

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The bison is related to the muskox and is also a member of the Bovidae family. Their genetic heritage splits, however, and bison are closer in DNA to the modern yak and guar. There are two species of bison, the American and European bison. As their names suggest, the American bison lives in North America, while the European bison lives in Europe. Bison are the largest terrestrial animals in the places they are found, surpassing even that of the muskox.

Both animals travel in herds. Muskox herd are usually between 8-20 members, depending on the time of year. Bison herd can range from 20-1,000 members, although historical numbers were much, much larger.

Let’s explore these animals in some more detail below!

Muskox vs Bison: Taxonomy

Muskox vs Bison
Both the muskox and bison belong to the Bovidae family.


The muskox belongs to the Bovidae family, along with all the other cloven-hoofed ruminants in the world. Although it is distantly related to bison, it is much more closely related to sheep and goats.

Bison are also members of the Bovidae family, only they are more closely related to yaks and guars. There are two extant (living) species of bison, the American and European bison. Within these species are various subspecies (like the plans and woods bison). The European bison was rendered extinct in the wild until reintroduction by humans. American bison still exist in the wild today.

Muskox vs Bison: Size

Muskox vs Bison
The bison is significantly larger than the muskox.

©Grey Mountain Photo/

The muskox is one of the larger animals in the Bovidae family, although they aren’t as large as the bison. A lot of the bulk that is seen with muskox comes from their thick hair which protects them from the harsh climate they live in. Muskox stands 4-5 feet at the shoulder and generally weigh 400-900 lbs.

Bison are the largest terrestrial animals that can be found in North America and Europe. The European bison is usually a bit taller, while the American bison has a larger top end in regards to weight. On average, bison stand 6-7 feet tall and weigh 880-2,500 lbs.

Muskox vs Bison: Appearance

Muskox vs Bison
Muskox are shorter and stockier, while bison are taller and more muscular.


In terms of physical features, muskox are shorter and stockier than bison. Additionally, they have long curved horns that radiate from a bony cap on their heads. Muskox have extremely long hair that falls down into a “skirt” which helps to protect them from the bitter cold of the Arctic.

Bison are taller and more muscular than muskox. Additionally, their horns are shorter and have an angle to them about halfway up, where the muskox is slowly curved. Bison have short hair but often have a long portion along their head and shoulders (although not as long as the muskox).

Muskox vs Bison: Distribution

Muskox vs Bison
The bison is found in North America and Europe.

©Geoffrey Kuchera/

Muskox had a historical range that extended through Siberia, North America, and Greenland. The last muskox died out in Europe around 9,000 years ago and Asia around 2,000 years ago. In the early 1900s, reintroduction efforts for the muskox into Europe began, with populations surviving in Russia, Norway, and Sweden.

The American bison can be found in multiple regions across Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The European bison was hunted to extinction in the wild in the 20th century. Captive breeding programs have allowed the European bison to reclaim land across Europe. The largest population of European bison lives in Poland and Belarus.

Muskox vs Bison: Habitat

Muskox vs Bison
Muskox prefer arctic tundra, while bison prefer plains and light woodlands.


The muskox exclusively lives in Arctic regions in the far north. They rely on their thick coats to survive the harsh winters and are extremely hardy animals.

American bison live in prairies and plains, particularly grasslands and semiarid scrublands. Additionally, they live in lightly wooded areas, especially the European bison.

The Featured Image

animals unique to North America:American bison
The American Bison is the largest land mammal in North America!
© Geoffrey Kuchera/

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About the Author

Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he isn't distracted by his backyard birdfeeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him about what he's recently learned. There's a whole world to learn about and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much as he can about it!

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