Are Buffalo and Bison the Same?

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Michael Fassbender

Buffalo and bison are often used interchangeably, but they are two different animals. Bison are native to North America and Europe, while buffalo are native to Africa and Asia. In general, bison have larger heads, humps, and overall size, while buffalo have longer, curvier horns.

What is the difference between bison and buffalo?

First of all, the words bison and buffalo don’t refer to single animals. There are two species of bison: The American bison (scientific name Bison bison) is also confusingly referred to as the American buffalo. The European bison (scientific name Bison bonasus) is also known as wisent. The name buffalo is most often used to refer to African Cape buffalo (scientific name Syncerus caffer caffer), the domesticated Asian water buffalo (scientific name Bubalus bubalis), or the wild Asian water buffalo (scientific name Bubalus arnee).

Native habitat

The two species of bison are named for where they live. American bison roam the grasslands of North America, while the endangered European bison mostly live in the forests of Eastern Europe. African Cape buffalo are native to the savannas and grasslands of Africa. Domesticated water buffalo can be found around the world, but wild water buffalo are native to the Indian subcontinent and southeast Asia.

Size

Both bison and buffalo are very large animals. Both species of bison tend to be larger than buffalo on average, reaching heights of 6 feet and weighing up to 2,000 pounds. African buffalo average up to 5 feet tall and up to around 1,800 pounds, and domesticated water buffalo have similar ranges. Wild water buffalo are even bigger, standing at over 6.5 feet tall and weighing over 2,500 pounds.

Head, hump, and horns

Bison have larger heads than buffalo and have beards. Bisons also have humps, which buffalo lack. However, buffalo make up for these shortcomings with their horns. African buffalo have long, horizontal horns that resemble bicycle handlebars, while water buffalo have long, crescent-shaped horns that stick up vertically and can grow up to 5 feet in length. Bison horns curve slightly out and up and are shorter, at about 2 to 2.5 feet long.

Animals similar to bison and buffalo

Bison and buffalo species are members of the Bovidae family. This family includes several other animals that have a passing resemblance to bison and buffalo, such as cattle, oxen, and yaks. All of these animals have cloven hooves, horns, robust sizes, and a somewhat similar body shape and appearance. Besides bison, all of these animals have also been domesticated by humans.

FAQs

Why are bison sometimes called buffalo?

American bison were given the moniker buffalo when French fur trappers came to work in the U.S. in the 1600s. The name comes from “boeuf,” meaning “beef.”

Which is in Yellowstone, buffalo or bison?

The Yellowstone herd is the largest and probably the oldest American bison herd in the U.S., today containing up to 5,500 individuals.

Can bison and buffalo breed with cattle?

Bison and buffalo can and do mate with cattle. The result is “beefalo,” a domesticated livestock species recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Beefalo are sterile and bred for meat.

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