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American Bison


American Bison - Bison bison

American Bison - Bison bison

Photo © Jack Dykinga / USDA.
American bison (Bison bison) are among the largest members of the Bovidae, the group of mammals that also includes domestic cattle, sheep, and goats as well as wild species such as antelope, and mountain goats.

American bison are majestic looking animals, with dark chestnut brown hair. They have longer, darker hair around their head, shoulders, and chest. They have a pair of upward-curved horns and a large shoulder hump. Within herds, individual bulls form and defend a group of females and will chase away any rival bulls who challenge them.

Bison form maternal groups of 16 to 25 individuals. These groups include females of various ages and young bulls up to three years old. Adult males remain on the periphery of the group. Bison also form larger herds, within these herds the boundaries between maternal groups become blurred. Groups of males also form within herds, consisting of 10 to 12 bulls.

Millions of bison used to roam North America's grasslands, boreal regions, and scrublands but the relentless slaughter of bison for meat, hides, and sport drove the species to the brink of extinction. During the last few decades of the 1800s, over 30 million animals were destroyed. By 1900, only 800 bison remained in the wild. This mass killing not only gravely endangered the bison, but also brought an end to a way of life for many Native Americans, whose entire subsistence was integrated with the lives of bison herds.


American bison are herbivores and, more specifically, grazers. They feed on grasses and sagebrush.

Size and Weight:

About 7-11 feet long and 770-2200 pounds


American bison inhabit the grasslands, boreal regions, scrublands of North America. Their former range stretched from Alaska to northern Mexico but now they are restricted to herds within protected areas such as Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, and Wood Buffalo Park, Northwest Territory, Canada.


American bison reproduce sexually. They reach sexual maturity between the ages of 2 and 3 years. Bison breed during the summer months, from June to September. Females can give birth to one calf per year and provide sole care for their young. Males do not protect or care for the young.


American bison belong to a group of mammals known as the even-toed ungulates. In addition to the American bison, the even-toed ungulates include camels, giraffes, cattle, pigs, hippopotamuses, deer, pronghorn, and peccaries.
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