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Related subjects: Mammals

Background Information

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American Bison (Bison bison)
Wisent (Bison bonasus)
Conservation status

Near Threatened ( IUCN 2.3)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Bovinae
Genus: Bison
Hamilton Smith, 1827
Species: Bison bonasus

B. antiquus
B. bison
B. bonasus
B. latifrons
B. occidentalis
B. priscus

Bison is a taxonomic group containing six species of large even-toed ungulates within the subfamily Bovinae. Only two of these species still exist: the American bison (B. bison) and the European bison, or wisent (B. bonasus), each with two subspecies.


In American Western culture, the bison is commonly referred to as "buffalo"; however, this is a misnomer: though both bison and buffalo belong to the Bovidae family, the term "buffalo" properly applies only to the Asian water buffalo and African buffalo. The gaur, a large, thick-coated ox found in Asia, is also known as the "Indian bison", although it is in the genus Bos and thus not a true bison.


The American and European bison are the largest terrestrial mammals in North America and Europe. Bison are nomadic grazers and travel in herds, except for the non-dominant bulls, which travel alone or in small groups during most of the year. American bison are known for living in the Great Plains. Both species were hunted close to extinction during the 19th and 20th centuries but have since rebounded, although the European bison is still endangered.

Unlike the Asian water buffalo, bison have never been domesticated, although the American bison is kept on some farms.

Bison live to be about 20 years old and are born without their trademark "hump" or horns. With the development of their horns, they become mature at two to three years of age, although the males continue to grow slowly to about age seven.

Adult bulls express a high degree of dominance competitiveness during mating season. Male bison fight for female bison. These fights often result in injury or death. After the bisons mate, the herd splits up into smaller herds. Calves are born nine months after mating. The mothers take care of and nurse their young for a year.

Bison are up to 11.5 feet (3.5m) in length, up to 6.5 feet (2m) in height and up to one ton in weight.


Bison have a fairly simple diet. The bison's main food is grass. Bison also eat the low lying shrubbery that is available. In the winter, bison forage in the snow looking for grass. If there is little grass available, bison have to resort to eating the twigs of the shrubs and plants.

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