Bison are the iconic image of the Great Plains and the Old West. While buffalo and bison are both mammals within the Bovidae family, the two are not all that closely related.
Bison are the iconic image of the Great Plains and the Old West. While buffalo and bison are both mammals within the Bovidae family, the two are not all that closely related.
Photograph by James P. Blair

American Bison

Bison are the iconic image of the Great Plains and the Old West. They are massive, shaggy beasts and the heaviest land animals in North America.

Common Name:
American Bison
Scientific Name:
Bison bison
Type:
Mammals
Diet:
Herbivore
Group Name:
Herd
Average Life Span In The Wild:
12 to 20 years
Size:
Head and body: 7 to 11.5 feet; tail:19.75 to 23.5 inches
Weight:
930 to 2,200 pounds

Despite their hefty size, bison are quick on their feet. When the need arises they can run at speeds up to 40 miles (65 kilometers) an hour. Their curved, sharp horns can grow to be 2 feet (61 centimeters) long.

Females (cows) and adult males (bulls) generally live in small, separate bands and come together in very large herds during the summer breeding season. Males wage battles for mating rights, but such contests rarely turn dangerous. Females give birth to one calf after a nine-month pregnancy.

Bison once covered the Great Plains and much of North America, and were critically important to Plains Indian societies. During the 19th century, settlers killed some 50 million bison for food, sport, and to deprive Native Americans of their most important natural asset. The once enormous herds were reduced to only a few hundred animals. Today, bison numbers have rebounded somewhat, and about 200,000 bison live on preserves and ranches where they are raised for their meat.