Bison Becomes National Mammal
After 234 years, it’s time for another animal to join the American eagle as a national symbol. Will it be the bison?
As the largest land-dwelling animal in North America, the bison of Yellowstone National Park (often mistakenly referred to as “buffalo”) are nearly impossible to miss. Good thing too. These massive animals are definitely worth getting a look at!
Known for their brown coats, curved horns and shaggy beards, bison are a central fixture on the Yellowstone landscape. Snap pictures, but don’t even think about approaching one of these docile-looking beasts. Bison are agile creatures that can run up to 35 miles per hour, and they are aggressive when disturbed.
Bison have dark-chocolate brown fur that’s long on the head, shoulders and forelegs; the hair covering the rest of their bodies is slightly lighter in color and much shorter, although it’s still quite dense. A bull (male) can weigh up to 2,000 pounds; a cow (female) up to 1,000 pounds. A bison’s shoulder hump can peak at 6 feet tall. They can swim well and can jump over objects up to 5 feet tall. Their hearing, vision and sense of smell are keen.
Yellowstone’s bison population is divided into two breeding herds, northern and central, that together include roughly 4,000-5,000 animals. Herds migrate to higher elevations and cooler temperatures in the summer and lower elevations and warmer temperatures in the winter. Cows and bulls typically live apart for most of the year, coming together in large herds during mating season.
Bison move continuously as they eat. They graze on a variety of grasses and sedges, as well as herbs, shrubs, and twigs. After swallowing their food, bison regurgitate it to chew again as cud before finally digesting it.
Bison typically live between 12 and 15 years, although a few animals have been known to live as long as 20 years. They mate in the summer (late July-August). Females have a 9- to 9.5-month gestation period. Babies have reddish tan fur when they’re born; the fur darkens to brown at 2.5 months
Both wolves and grizzly bears will hunt and eat bison. A bison carcass provides a delicious treat for scavengers and other carnivores.