Do you know the difference between bison and buffalo?
Most people don’t, but there is a big distinction between the two animals. Bison are native to North America, while buffalo can be found all over the world.
Buffalo are more muscular and have shorter hair than Bison. Bison are usually larger than buffalo, and they have longer hair.
Most people think of bison and buffalo as the same animal, but there are actually several differences between the two.
When the first settlers to the New World arrived they thought the wild herds of Bison were buffalo, and so the name stuck.
Bison and buffalo are, however, two distinct animal species. They both belong to the bovid family, so what exactly is the difference between the two?
Buffalo vs Bison: Location
Bison are native to North America, while buffalo can be found all over the world. The American Bison is actually the largest land mammal in North America! They once roamed free in huge herds across the plains.
When it comes to habitat, bison live in grasslands and woodlands while buffalo prefer marshy areas.
Buffalo vs Bison: Fur
Bison are also more muscular than buffalo with shorter hair. Buffalo tend to be larger than bison and have longer hair.
Bison vs Buffalo: Size
When it comes to size, bison are usually larger than buffalo. Adult male American bison can weigh up to a whopping 3000 pounds (1361 kg) and stand up to six feet (183 cm) tall at the shoulder!
Meanwhile, the average adult male buffalo only weighs around 1000-2000 pounds (454-909 kg).
Bison vs Buffalo: Body shape
The neck of the buffalo extends up at an angle, like most quadrupeds, and its backs are fairly straight. Bison have larger front ends because of their enormous heads and prominent shoulder humps, giving the impression that their backs slope down from shoulder to rump.
Bison have big heads and a prominent shoulder hump. The head of the buffalo is more proportionate to its body, and it lacks a hump.
Bison have small, curved horns that stick out of the top of their heads a few inches above their eyes. Water buffalo have broader, wider horns that protrude sideways from the top of their heads before curving
Bison vs Buffalo: Behavior
Bison are generally considered to be more aggressive than buffalo. They have been known to attack humans if they feel threatened. Buffalo, on the other hand, tend to be more docile.
Bison vs Buffalo: Diet
Both are herbivores. Bison eat mostly grasses while buffalo consume a mix of grasses and aquatic plants.
Bison vs Buffalo: Lifespan
Bison have a lifespan of around 15-20 years while buffalo can live up to 18 years in the wild.
One captive female of African Buffalo was 32.8 years of age when she died in 2015 at Dresden Zoo.
Bison vs Buffalo: Conservation Status
Both African Buffalo and Bison are listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.
The American bison was once on the brink of extinction but thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers have increased. There are now around 500,000 bison in North America.
All of the subspecies of African buffalo are considered together by the IUCN and are listed as Near Threatened. In the 1800’s African buffalo populations were exposed to rinderpest, a disease of domestic cattle, which caused a significant decline in the species. Fortunately, the species have since recovered, but they are still at risk from other factors. The current population of African buffalo is around 400,000 individuals.
The main threats to African buffalo are habitat loss and poaching. As one of the big five, these animals are often targeted by poachers and trophy hunters. Some hunters pay over $10,000 for the opportunity to hunt one. Habitat loss is caused by climate change, which can subsequently change the ecosystem in the area.
The African Buffalo
The African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a sub-Saharan African bovine, of which there are five species. These animals are large and widely regarded as one of the most dangerous animals on the African continent. It has a very unpredictable temperament and has never been domesticated; in fact, it is not an ancestor of domestic cattle and is only distantly related to other larger bovines.
These animals belong to the genus Syncerus and the family Bovidae. They are found mostly in savannas, swamps and floodplains. They are grazing ruminants, eating grass and sedges as well as cud or bolus. The African buffalo has very few predators and are capable of defending themselves against large animals such as African lions. Despite this, lions do regularly eat buffalos.
The nominate subspecies, the Cape buffalo, is a member of the big five and is therefore sought after for trophy hunting. Hunting, along with loss of habitat, is one of the main reasons the population of the African buffalo is declining. It is currently listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List.
Bison are true even-toed mammals that belong to the family Bovidae. There are two kinds of Bison species that inhabit our planet, they are the American Bison (Bison bison) which include the species American plains bison (Bison bison bison) and the American wood bison (Bison bison athabascae), and the European Bison (Bison bonasus) which are also referred to as ‘Wisent’.
Altogether, there were originally 6 species of Bison, however, 4 are now extinct.
Male Bison are referred to as ‘Bulls’ and females are referred to as ‘Cows’. American Bison and European Bison are very similar in appearance. Bison are huge, powerful, aggressive bovine mammals with solid muscular heads and necks which are covered with brown shaggy fur. They use their very strong heads to shove and head-butt each other to win females during breeding season.
So, there you have it! The next time someone asks you about the difference between bison and buffalo, you’ll be able to give them a full breakdown!