Bison vs. Buffalo: Knowing the Difference

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Bison, like those pictured above, are often mistaken for buffalo.

Most have heard the song “Home on the Range,” painting a scene of buffalo roaming while the deer and antelope are playing. But are these creatures that we mention truly buffalo … or are they bison? Often confused and used interchangeably, bison and buffalo are entirely different animals!

Although both are from the same family and do have similarities, there are unique characteristics that set these wildlife species apart. For starters, bison are native to North America and Europe, while buffalo have origins in Africa and Asia. When settlers first arrived on the North American continent, they were quick to note the resemblance, and the term has been widely misused ever since.

Key differences are also in the anatomy. Buffalo species are much larger and can weigh up to 2,600 lbs! They also sport horns that are longer in length than their counterparts. On the other hand, bison are slightly smaller, have short horns, have a distinctive beard and bear a visible shoulder hump.

The SCA is no stranger to bison as this species is one of the many types of wildlife our members work to protect. At Yellowstone National Park, our Bison Field Team members assist the Bison Management Team with research and data analysis. SCA member Lindsey Hanneken described a bit of the work for us.

“Most of our days were spent collecting data on the impact of ungulate grazing, completing the bison annual census and my favorite – biopsy darting bison to determine if there is a genetic distinction between our two large herds of the park.”

Five people standing in grass with buffalo behind them.

Lindsey with the Bison Management Team at Yellowstone.

By making connections throughout the Yellowstone Center for Resources, Lindsey found out that most of the biologists and researchers got their start through the SCA or similar AmeriCorps programs.

“It gives me hope for my career in wildlife conservation and that my term with the SCA is just the beginning. I’m proud to say that I accepted a position with the bison management department completing research through Brown University looking at the gut microbiome of ungulates throughout winter and participating in bison capture with the National Park Service for the purpose of placing GPS collars. Catch me in Yellowstone for round two!”

Woman standing on right in front of yellowstone national park sign

Lindsey in front of the Yellowstone National Park sign.

With your support, the SCA can continue to provide opportunities for young people to protect wildlife like the North American Bison! Through Dec. 31, your gift will have TRIPLE the impact for conservation efforts.

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