bison

Members of the genus Bison are large, even-toed ungulates within the subfamily Bovinae. Two extant and four extinct species are recognized. The surviving species are the American bison, also known as the American buffalo (although it is only distantly related to the true buffalo), Bison bison, found in North America, and the European bison, or wisent (Bison bonasus), found in Europe and the Caucasus. The North American species is composed of two subspecies, the plains bison, Bison bison bison, and the wood bison, Bison bison athabascae. While all bison species are usually grouped into their own genus, they are sometimes included in the closely related genus Bos, together with cattle, gaur, kouprey and yaks, with which bison have a limited ability to interbreed.

Wallowing is a common behavior of bison. A bison wallow is a shallow depression in the soil, either wet or dry. Bison roll in these depressions, covering themselves with mud or dust. Possible explanations suggested for wallowing behavior include grooming behavior associated with moulting, male-male interaction (typically rutting behavior), social behavior for group cohesion, play behavior, relief from skin irritation due to biting insects, reduction of ectoparasite load (ticks and lice), and thermoregulation. In the process of wallowing, bison may become infected by the fatal disease anthrax, which may occur naturally in the soil.

The bison’s temperament is often unpredictable. They usually appear peaceful, unconcerned, even lazy, yet they may attack anything, often without warning or apparent reason. They can move at speeds of up to 35 mph and cover long distances at a lumbering gallop.

Their most obvious weapons are the horns borne by both males and females, but their massive heads can be used as battering rams, effectively using the momentum produced by 2,000 pounds moving at 30 mph. The hind legs can also be used to kill or maim with devastating effect. At the time bison ran wild, they were rated second only to the Alaska brown bear as a potential killer, more dangerous than the grizzly bear. In the words of early naturalists, they were a dangerous, savage animal that feared no other animal and in prime condition could best any foe(except for wolves and brown bears).

The rutting, or mating, season lasts from June through September, with peak activity in July and August. At this time, the older bulls rejoin the herd, and fights often take place between bulls. The herd exhibits much restlessness during breeding season. The animals are belligerent, unpredictable and most dangerous.

The American bison live in river valleys, and on prairies and plains. Typical habitat is open or semi-open grasslands, as well as sagebrush, semi-arid lands and scrublands. Some lightly wooded areas are also known historically to have supported bison. Bison will also graze in hilly or mountainous areas where the slopes are not steep. Though not particularly known as high altitude animals, bison in the Yellowstone Park Bison Herd are frequently found at elevations above 8,000 feet and the Henry Mountains Bison Herd is found on the plains around the Henry Mountains, Utah, as well as in mountain valleys of the Henry Mountains to an altitude of 10,000 feet.