Bison are known as gentle giants, in fact behemoth would be perfect to say. These huge powerful animals lived many years ago from the forest of Alaska to the grasslands of Mexico, Nevada and the Eastern Appalachian mountains along with Saber-toothed tigers and Mammoths. Unfortunately in the 1800s, approximately 60 million Bison were slaughtered for food, clothing and sports. Due to conservation laws these creature have been saved from getting extinct. The American bison was named the national mammal of the United States on May 9, 2016 by President Mr. Obama. This majestic animal join the rank as the official symbol of US, and much like the eagle, it is one of the greatest conservation success stories of all time.
Here are some facts about them.
1. Bison are the largest mammal in North America. They stand 6-6.5 feet tall, 10-12.5 feet long, their tail add 20-23 inches and they can weigh 450-900kgs. European Bison are almost the same in size but weigh a bit heavier, their weight can differ from 800-1000kgs.
2. They have very strong, sharp and curved horns which grow up-to 60 centimeters or 2 feet in length.
3. New born calves weigh around 15-35kgs with having reddish or light brown coat and lack the distinctive hump on the back like adults. These calves are also known as red dogs due to their coat. In few months their coloration changes from reddish light brown to dark brown, also horns and the iconic hump grows.
4. A bison’s hump is pure muscle, supported by long vertebrae. It allows them to use their head to plow through snow. The combination of thick muscular neck and hard bony skull give them such strength that flipping a car is very easy for them, even they can through a full size refrigerator 15 feet high up in the air.
5. Bison don’t burn extra calories to stay warm in below-zero temperatures. Their thick coat insulates them from harsh winter weather with two layers of hair. The outer layer serves as protection from cold and moisture, whereas the inner layer consists of fine fibers, creating an insulation that traps air and warmth. Also they have 10 times more hair per square inch than domestic cattle. Their coats are so effective against cold that snow remains on top of the bison without melting.
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6. While bison and buffalo are used interchangeably, in North America the scientific name is bison. Actually, it is Bison bison bison (genus- Bison, species- bison, subspecies- bison), but only saying it once is fine.
7. Despite their similarities to cows, they don’t make noises like domestic cattle. They don’t moo instead, they bellow, grunt, growl, and snort. The snorts and growls can sound like truck or lawnmower engines. The grunts sound like a pig. Bellows are particularly common during breeding season. Bison communicate with calves and cows using a variety of snorts, growls, and rumbling alarm calls. Calves make some bleating sounds in respond their mothers.
8. They are nearsighted. While having poor eyesight, they have excellent senses of smell and hearing.
9. Their mood can be judged by the tail. When they are calm their tail hangs down and switches naturally. If the tail is standing straight up, It may be ready to charge. No matter what a bison’s tail is doing, they are unpredictable and can charge at any moment. Every year, there are many accidents caused by people getting too close to these massive animals. It is great to love them, but from a distance.
10. The average lifespan for a bison is 10-20 years, but some live up-to 25 years in captivity. Cows begin breeding at the age of 2 and only have one baby at a time. For males, the prime breeding age is 6-10 years.
11. During mating season, the bull blocks the cow’s vision so that she may not see other competing bulls. They bellows at other males striving for the cow’s attention and wage battles for mating rights, but such contests rarely turn dangerous.
12. From hunter to conservationist, Teddy Roosevelt helped to save bison from extinction. In 1883, Teddy Roosevelt traveled to Dakota to hunt them. After spending a few years in the west, Roosevelt returned to New York with a new outlook on life. He magically put effort in conservation movement. In 1905, he formed the American Bison Society with William Hornaday to save these creatures. Today they live in all 50 states, including Native American lands, wildlife refuges, national parks and private lands.
13. Yellowstone National Park is the only place in the U.S. where bison have continuously lived since prehistoric times. The Yellowstone bison are special due to their pure descendants (free from cattle genes) of early bison that roamed the country’s grasslands. As of July 2015, Yellowstone bison population was estimated at 4,900, making the largest bison population on public lands.
14. From the late 19th century, Interior has been the primary national conservation steward of the bison. Public lands managed by Interior support 17 bison herds or approximately 10,000 in 12 states, including Alaska.