They are seriously large creatures, with adult males standing at 6 feet and weighing in at around 2000 pounds.
As herbivores, they spend 9-11 hours a day just searching for and consuming food. They were once found all over the North American continent. These creatures survived the Ice Age as well as rampant hunting, before conservationists managed to protect the remaining herds.
Any guesses? Known informally as the buffalo, the bison is today a proud symbol of the United States of America. It was made the national mammal last week when President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Law. Now it ranks up there along with the bald eagle, another national emblem.
The History Of The Bison
Believe it or not, its scientific name is bison bison bison. This includes the name of the genus, the species and the subspecies.
Fossils show that the ancestors of the bison came over from Asia, around 400,000 years ago, when there was still land connecting the two continents. They are essentially migratory animals and gradually spread over the entire continent all the way to Mexico. Indeed, Yellowstone National park has had wild bison living there since prehistoric times.
Bison have distinctive horns as well as a muscular hump. The sheer bulk indicates their enormous strength, but bison are also surprisingly agile. They can run at speeds of over 35 miles per hour and quickly change direction. They also jump and swim very well, given their size. Unusually, they have very poor eyesight, but make up for it with extraordinary senses of smell and sound. Average life spans range between 10 and 20 years.
The large herds played an important role in the environment – the amount of vegetation they ate helped make way for new plants to grow! They lived alongside Native Americans for many years, and had special reverence in tribal cultures. Unfortunately, they fell prey to years of hunting expeditions and colonization and by the 1800s, the bison came close to extinction.
In the late 1800s, Theodore Roosevelt went on a bison hunt – and came back a changed man. He gave a new meaning to bison conservation.
Today, there are almost half a million bison spread across all 50 states of US. A majority are commercially raised as livestock, but there also wild herds in dedicated national parks. Either way, the bison are known to be unpredictable animals – so keep a safe distance always. No close-up selfies!
Bison have long been seen as the last living symbol of the Wild West frontier heritage of the US. The new status as the National mammal serves to remind us of the animal’s ties to the rich history of the country. The official recognition will also help support conservation efforts in the future to safeguard this species.