9:48 p.m. - 2006-05-24
I hope you all had a fantastic hump day. Indeed, to celebrate this weekly milestone, I will feature a humped creature: The American Bison!
Bison bison is the scientific name of the American buffalo, while the European bison (or wisent) is known as Bison bonasus. There is also a species in the U.S. called the wood bison; although it seems to have been completely interbred with the American bison.
It is actually inaccurate to call a bison a buffalo, as the latter name really refers to African and Asian species of cattle. But, oh well.
The wild buffalo is the largest North American land animal! Males can reach over ten feet long and six feet high at the shoulder. Adult bulls can weigh of over 2,000 pounds and run 30 miles per hour!
Male and female bison can be differentiated by the female's smaller size, as well as a less significant variation in the length of her hair. Bison usually roam in groups; cow groups include females, immature males, and elderly males. Bulls hang out together too, but become more interested in cow groups come breeding time. When bison travel, they form a line headed by a matriarch.
Bison possess excellent hearing and sense of smell. They groom themselves every day, by rubbing against trees and rocks, and rolling in the dust. The prairie environment is truly shaped by the grazing of the buffalo and these dust wallows.
Before Europeans came to Amurrica, the bison population stretched from Alaska to Mexico, with a herd 30 million strong. Some scientists consider this to be the largest population of big animals ever to roam the earth. In 1890, however, the buffalo population was hunted down to only about 1,000. Not only was their habitat overrun, but they were overhunted by both Native Americans and European Americans. Most harmful was the government's plan to eradicate the bison in order to ruin the livelihood of Plains Indians.
Thankfully, the American bison became protected, and now around 200,000 animals roam in several national parks. Yellowstone Park in Wyoming and Wood Buffalo Park, in the Northwest Territory of Canada have the largest herds.
Activists with the World Wildlife Fund are working to preserve the genetic purity of buffalo, as there are only six small herds that don't contain cattle genes. WWF is placing some of these bison in a preserve in Montana.
I didn't know buffalo could be interbred with yaks! This results in a creature called a yakalo. Other cattle can mix with bison as well, especially beef cows; the result of this union is called a beefalo or cattalo. I guess the goal is a larger animal, with less fat content than a cow. Also I bet beefalo are cute.
We've talked about buffalo racial diversity, but not the act of bison luv itself! Well, males and females start getting randy in June through September. As with many animals, size matters when it comes to who gets to mate with who. (I'll let you interpret that however you want.) Females reach sexual maturity at around age three, but males wait until age six, so they'll be larger and more competitive against other males. Bulls "tend" cows, which means they linger around a female to make sure no other males come around. Anyway, larger bulls win most scuffles that arise when the female buffalo is in heat, and then is allowed to mate with her. All this tending and fighting must tire the bulls out, as buffalo intercourse doesn't take long!
The bison cow carries the baby around 285 days, so the calves are born from April to May. When it's time, the cow leaves the herd and gives birth by herself in an area with a lot of cover. Several days later Mama and Munchkin return to the herd. Buffalo calves will nurse for seven to eight months.
I hope you've learned something about our friend the buffalo! And I hope you spot some in your travels this summer.
P.S. As I started my research, I found a lot of info about Buffalo, NY, the town from which my dear roommate hails! So, another shout out to D in St. Louis!|