American bison

Bison bison

The American bison , also commonly known as the American buffalo, is a North American species of bison that once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds. Their range once roughly comprised a triangle between the Great Bear Lake in Canada's far northwest, south to the Mexican states of Durango and Nuevo León, and east along the western boundary of the Appalachian Mountains. Because of commercial hunting and slaughter in the 19th century, the bison nearly went extinct and is today restricted to a few national parks and other reserves.

Two subspecies or ecotypes have been described: the plains bison , smaller in size and with a more rounded hump, and the wood bison – the larger of the two and having a taller, square hump. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the plains bison consists of a northern and a southern subspecies, bringing the total to three. However, this is generally not supported. The wood bison is one of the largest species of bovid in the world, surpassed by only the Italian Chianina, the Asian gaur and wild Asian water buffalo. It is the largest extant land animal in North America.
Winter Wonderland - Bison - Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park This young bison bull strayed from the rest of the herd in search for new grass to graze. The bison do nothing but eat grass buried deep beneath the snow all winter long. They get to the grass by using their massive head and neck muscles back and forth to dig through the snow. American bison,Bison bison,Geotagged,Snow,United States,Winter,Wyoming,Yellowstone National Park,mammals

Appearance

A bison has a shaggy, long, dark brown winter coat, and a lighter weight, lighter brown summer coat. As is typical in ungulates, the male bison are slightly larger than the female. Plains bison are often in the smaller range of sizes, and Wood bison in the larger range. Head-and-body length ranges from 2 to 3.5 m long, the tail adding 30 to 91 cm . Shoulder height in the species can range from 152 to 186 cm . Typical weigh can range from 318 to 1,000 kg . The heaviest wild bull ever recorded weighed 1,270 kg . When raised in captivity and farmed for meat, the bison can grow unnaturally heavy and the largest semi-domestic bison weighed 1,724 kg . The heads and forequarters are massive, and both sexes have short, curved horns that can grow up to 2 feet long, which they use in fighting for status within the herd and for defense.

Bison are herbivores, grazing on the grasses and sedges of the North American prairies. Their daily schedule involves two-hour periods of grazing, resting and cud chewing, then moving to a new location to graze again. Bison mate in August and September; gestation is 285 days. A single reddish-brown calf nurses until the next calf is born. If the cow is not pregnant, a calf will nurse for 18 months. Bison cows are mature enough to produce a calf at 3 years of age. Bison bulls may try to mate with cows at 3 years of age, but if more mature bulls are present, they may not be able to compete until they reach 5 years of age. Bison have a life expectancy of approximately 15 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity.

For the first two months of life, calves are lighter in color than mature bison. One very rare condition is the white buffalo, in which the calf turns entirely white. White bison are considered sacred by many Native Americans.
Badland Bison Taken in the Badlands National Park. American bison,Bison bison

Naming

Some consider the term "buffalo" somewhat of a misnomer for this animal, as it is only distantly related to either of the two "true buffalo," the Asian water buffalo and the African buffalo. However, "bison" is a Greek word meaning ox-like animal, while "buffalo" originated with the French fur trappers who called these massive beasts ...snipped..., meaning ox or bullock – so both names, "bison" and "buffalo," have a similar meaning. In reference to this animal, the term "buffalo," which dates to 1635, has a much longer history than the term "bison," which was first recorded in 1774. The American bison is more closely related to the wisent or European bison.
Badlands Bison A bison cow poses in the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota. American bison,Bison bison,Geotagged,Mammals,North Dakota,Theodore Roosevelt National Park,United States,spring

Distribution

Despite being the closest relatives of domestic cattle native to North America, bison were never domesticated by native Americans. Later attempts of domestication by Europeans prior to the 20th century met with limited success. Bison were described as having "wild and ungovernable temper"; they can jump 6 feet vertically, and run 35–40 mph when agitated. In combination with their weight, that makes bison herds difficult to confine, because they can jump over or crash through almost any fence.

There are approximately 500,000 bison in captive commercial populations on about 4,000 privately owned ranches.

Under the IUCN Red List Guidelines, commercial herds are not eligible for consideration in determining a Red List designation, therefore the total population of bison calculated in conservation herds is approximately 30,000 individuals and the mature population consists of approximately 20,000 individuals. Of the total number presented, only 15,000 total individuals are considered wild bison in the natural range within North America .
American Bison - Free Ride A bison rests in the sagebrush as some cowbirds rest on his back. The birds are often seen around the bison as they often have bugs in their fur. Captured in Yellowstone National Park. American bison,Bison bison,Geotagged,Spring,United States,Wyoming,Yellowstone National Park,mammals

Behavior

Bison are migratory and herd migrations can be directional as well as altitudinal in some areas. Bison have usual daily movements between foraging sites during the summer. In a montane valley, bison have been recorded traveling, on average, 3.2 km a day. The summer ranges of bison appear to be influenced by seasonal vegetation changes, interspersion and size of foraging sites, the rut and the number of biting insects. The size of preserve and availability of water may also be a factor. Bison are largely grazers, eating primarily grasses and sedges. On shortgrass pasture, bison predominately consume warm season grasses. On mixed prairie, it appears that cool season grasses, including some sedges, compose 79–96% of their diet. In montane and northern areas, sedges are selected throughout the year. Bison also drink water daily or even snow.Female bison live in maternal herds which include other females and their offspring. Male offspring leave their maternal herd when around three years old and will either live alone or join other males in bachelor herds. Male and female herds usually do not mingle until the breeding season. However female herds may also contain a few older males. During the breeding season, dominant bulls maintain a small harem of females for mating. Individual bulls "tend" cows until allowed to mate, by following them around and chasing away rival males. The tending bull will shield the female's vision with his body so she will not see any other challenging males. A challenging bull may bellow or roar to get a female's attention and the tending bull has to bellow/roar back. The most dominant bulls mate in the first 2–3 weeks of the season. More subordinate bulls will mate with any remaining estrous cow that has not mated yet. Male bison play no part in raising the young.

Bison herds have dominance hierarchies that exist for both males and females. A bison's dominance is related to its birth date. Bison born earlier in the breeding season are more likely to be larger and more dominant as adults. Thus bison are able to pass on their dominance to their offspring as dominant bison breed earlier in the season. In addition to dominance, the older bison of a generation also have a higher fertility rate than the younger ones. Cows nurse their calves for at least 7 or 8 months but most calves seem to be weaned before the end of their first year.

Bison have been observed to display homosexual behaviors, males much more so than females. In the case of males, it is unlikely to be related to dominance but rather to social bonding or gaining sexual experience.A bison wallow is a shallow depression in the soil, which is used either wet or dry. Bison roll in these depressions, covering themselves with dust or mud. Past explanations and current hypotheses suggested for wallowing behavior include grooming behavior associated with shedding, male-male interaction , social behavior for group cohesion, play behavior, relief from skin irritation due to biting insects; reduction of ectoparasite load; and thermoregulation.
American Bison Shaggy, dark brown inner coat; lighter in Summer. Both sexes have horns. Live in herds of thousands. There are numerous bison ranches in Oregon, and some of the bison have managed to escape captivity and roam the mountainous areas. American Bison,American bison,Bison bison,Geotagged,Summer,United States,bison,buffalo

Habitat

Bison are migratory and herd migrations can be directional as well as altitudinal in some areas. Bison have usual daily movements between foraging sites during the summer. In a montane valley, bison have been recorded traveling, on average, 3.2 km a day. The summer ranges of bison appear to be influenced by seasonal vegetation changes, interspersion and size of foraging sites, the rut and the number of biting insects. The size of preserve and availability of water may also be a factor. Bison are largely grazers, eating primarily grasses and sedges. On shortgrass pasture, bison predominately consume warm season grasses. On mixed prairie, it appears that cool season grasses, including some sedges, compose 79–96% of their diet. In montane and northern areas, sedges are selected throughout the year. Bison also drink water daily or even snow.
Bison Bull and Cow - Courting Pair A bull bison groans a warning to the other bulls that this cow is taken. The bulls will pair up with a cow and will protect her at all costs until she is ready to breed. Until that time, they are attached at the hip; when she moves, he moves. Captured in Yellowstone National Park's Hayden Valley. American bison,Bison bison,Geotagged,Summer,United States,Wyoming,Yellowstone National Park,mammals

Reproduction

Female bison live in maternal herds which include other females and their offspring. Male offspring leave their maternal herd when around three years old and will either live alone or join other males in bachelor herds. Male and female herds usually do not mingle until the breeding season. However female herds may also contain a few older males. During the breeding season, dominant bulls maintain a small harem of females for mating. Individual bulls "tend" cows until allowed to mate, by following them around and chasing away rival males. The tending bull will shield the female's vision with his body so she will not see any other challenging males. A challenging bull may bellow or roar to get a female's attention and the tending bull has to bellow/roar back. The most dominant bulls mate in the first 2–3 weeks of the season. More subordinate bulls will mate with any remaining estrous cow that has not mated yet. Male bison play no part in raising the young.

Bison herds have dominance hierarchies that exist for both males and females. A bison's dominance is related to its birth date. Bison born earlier in the breeding season are more likely to be larger and more dominant as adults. Thus bison are able to pass on their dominance to their offspring as dominant bison breed earlier in the season. In addition to dominance, the older bison of a generation also have a higher fertility rate than the younger ones. Cows nurse their calves for at least 7 or 8 months but most calves seem to be weaned before the end of their first year.

Bison have been observed to display homosexual behaviors, males much more so than females. In the case of males, it is unlikely to be related to dominance but rather to social bonding or gaining sexual experience.
Lone Bison Against the Mission Mountains - National Bison Range, MT A lone bull bison feeds on grass on a knoll in Montana's National Bison Range as the snow-capped Mission Mountain range towers behind. American bison,Bison bison,Geotagged,Mammals,Montana,Mountains,National Bison Range,United States,Winter

Food

The American bison is a relative newcomer to North America, having originated in Eurasia and migrated over the Bering Strait. About 10,000 years ago it replaced the steppe bison , a previous immigrant that was much larger. It is thought that the long-horned bison became extinct due to a changing ecosystem and hunting pressure following the development of the Clovis point and related technology, and improved hunting skills. During this same period, other megafauna vanished and were replaced to some degree by immigrant Eurasian animals that were better adapted to predatory humans. The American bison, technically a dwarf form, was one of these animals.

Bison were a keystone species, whose grazing pressure was a force that shaped the ecology of the Great Plains as strongly as periodic prairie fires and which were central to the lifestyle of Native Americans of the Great Plains. However, there is now some controversy over their interaction. "Hernando De Soto's expedition staggered through the Southeast for four years in the early 16th century and saw hordes of people but apparently did not see a single bison," Charles C. Mann wrote in ''1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus''. Mann discussed the evidence that Native Americans not only created the large grasslands that provided the bison's ideal habitat but also kept the bison population regulated. In this theory, it was only when the original human population was devastated by wave after wave of epidemic after the 16th century that the bison herds propagated wildly. In such a view, the seas of bison herds that stretched to the horizon were a symptom of an ecology out of balance, only rendered possible by decades of heavier-than-average rainfall. Other evidence of the arrival circa 1550–1600 CE in the savannas of the eastern seaboard includes the lack of places which southeast natives named after buffalo. Bison were the most numerous single species of large wild mammal on Earth.



What is not disputed is that before the introduction of horses, bison were herded into large chutes made of rocks and willow branches and then stampeded over cliffs. These buffalo jumps are found in several places in the U.S. and Canada, such as Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Large groups of people would herd the bison for several miles, forcing them into a stampede that would ultimately drive many animals over a cliff. The large quantities of meat obtained in this way provided the hunters with surplus, which was used in trade.
A similar method of hunting was to drive the bison into natural corrals, such as the Ruby site.

To get the optimum use out of the bison, the Native Americans had a specific method of butchery, first identified at the Olsen-Chubbock archaeological site in Colorado. The method involves skinning down the back to get at the tender meat just beneath the surface, the area known as the "hatched area." After the removal of the hatched area, the front legs are cut off as well as the shoulder blades. Doing so exposes the hump meat , as well as the meat of the ribs and the bison's inner organs. After everything was exposed, the spine was then severed and the pelvis and hind legs removed. Finally, the neck and head were removed as one. This allowed for the tough meat to be dried and made into pemmican.

Later, when Plains Indians obtained horses, it was found that a good horseman could easily lance or shoot enough bison to keep his tribe and family fed, as long as a herd was nearby. The bison provided meat, leather, sinew for bows, grease, dried dung for fires, and even the hooves could be boiled for glue. When times were bad, bison were consumed down to the last bit of marrow.Hunting of wild bison is legal in some states and provinces where public herds require culling to maintain a target population. In Alberta, where one of only two continuously wild herds of bison exist in North America at Wood Buffalo National Park, bison are hunted to protect disease-free public and private herds of bison.

Bison hunting in Utah is permitted in both the Antelope Island Bison Herd and the Henry Mountains Bison Herd though the licenses are limited and tightly controlled. A Game Ranger is also generally sent out with any hunters to help them find and select the right bison to kill. In this way, the hunting is used as a part of the wildlife management strategy and to help cull less desirable individuals.

In Montana, a public hunt was reestablished in 2005, with 50 permits being issued. The Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Commission increased the number of tags to 140 for the 2006/2007 season. Advocacy groups claim that it is premature to reestablish the hunt, given the bison's lack of habitat and wildlife status in Montana.

Bison were also reintroduced to Alaska in 1928, and both domestic and wild herds subsist in a few parts of the state. The state grants limited permits to hunt wild bison each year.

The bison is one of the few North American large game animals that can be hunted year round, though hunters prefer to hunt it at certain times of the year to achieve desired appearances of the coat.

In 2002 the United States government donated some buffalo calves from South Dakota and Colorado to the Mexican government for the reintroduction of bison to Mexico's nature reserves. These reserves included El Uno Ranch at Janos and Santa Helena Canyon, Chihuahua, and Boquillas del Carmen, Coahuila, which is located on the southern shore of the Rio Grande and the grasslands bordering Texas and New Mexico.

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Status: Near threatened
EX EW CR EN VU NT LC
Taxonomy
KingdomAnimalia
DivisionChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderArtiodactyla
FamilyBovidae
GenusBison
SpeciesB. bison