The bison is a representative of very large, powerful, and incredibly beautiful herbivores. In appearance, they are very similar to the European bison, they can easily be confused. Animals of both species often interbreed with each other, forming offspring, which is called bison.
The greatness, fearlessness and indestructible calm of the animal inspire fear and respect. The dimensions of herbivores provide them with indisputable superiority among all existing ungulates on earth.
View origin and description
The bison belongs to the chordate mammals. They are representatives of the order of artiodactyls, the family of bovids, allocated to the genus and species of bison. As a result of excavations, zoologists discovered that during the Pliocene period, that is, about 5.5-2.5 million years ago, they already existed on earth.
Scientists suggest that at that time the territory of the modern southern Europe. After a certain period of time, in the Pleistocene, animals spread throughout Europe, and later even appeared in North America.
Scientists claim that the Bering Bridge, which existed about 650 thousand years ago, helped them get there. In this territory, a small subspecies of bison was formed, which settled in the southern part of Beringia. The bison of that time were almost twice the size of modern bison. They were distinguished by their rapid adaptability to living conditions, however, over time and climate change, bison have almost halved.
Approximately 100,000 years ago, the ice age began, the population of the European steppe bison spread across North America. In this area, they settled the Beringian tundra and steppes. At that time, this territory had all the conditions for a favorable existence and reproduction. Due to this, their numbers exceeded the populations of mammoths, reindeer, musk oxen, and other ungulates.
Due to a change in climatic conditions that occurred about 14,000 years ago, the water level in the ocean rose greatly, so the Bering Bridge was completely flooded. The ecosystem was disrupted, as a result of which the habitat of the Eurasian bison was completely destroyed.
On the territory of Europe, bison were formed from the European bison. This species has adapted to exist in the conditions of green broad-leaved forests. On the territory of the American continent, a mixture of ancient and steppe bison occurred, two varieties of bison were formed: forest and local.
At the beginning of the 16th century, animals were common, the population was numerous – it numbered about 600,000 individuals. They formed huge populations and occupied the territory from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains, occupied the range from Alaska to the northern region of Mexico.
Appearance and features
The appearance of the animal is really impressive. The height of an adult at the withers is about two meters, the length of the body is 2.7-3 meters. Body weight – 1000 – 1200 kilograms. Among these mammals, sexual dimorphism is pronounced – females are smaller and lighter than males. The mass of one adult female does not exceed seven hundred kilograms.
The head of a bison is powerful, large and is located on a massive, thick neck. On the head are thick, sharp, long horns, the ends of which are bent towards the body. The ears of animals are small, rounded, hidden in wool. Large, round, black eyes are distant from each other at a considerable distance. Bison have a high, massive, pronounced forehead.
A distinctive feature is dark, elongated hair in the head, neck, chest and forelimbs. Such a coat makes the animal look even more formidable.
In the region of the transition of the neck to the body, the animal has a large hump, which makes the body of the animal even more bulky and intimidating. The back of the body is much smaller than the front, covered with short, sparse, lighter hair.
Animals have not too long, but strong and strong limbs with well-developed muscles. The bison has a small tail, at the tip of which there is a tassel of dark wool. Herbivores have very keenly developed hearing and sense of smell.
The coat color is dark brown or dark gray, may have a lighter shade of coat. In the front of the body, all representatives of this species have much darker hair.
Interesting fact. The animals have a mop of thick hair that looks very much like a hat.
Where does the bison live?
The main habitat of bison is concentrated in North America. A few centuries ago, the bison population numbered more than 60 million individuals. Huge herds lived almost everywhere. In connection with the extermination of animals, their number has sharply decreased, and their habitat is only two or three regions in the Missouri area.
In the distant past, animals led a nomadic lifestyle, moving in the cold season to the southern and regions, and with the onset of warmth moved back. Today, such a phenomenon is impossible, since the habitat is significantly limited to farm and agricultural land.
As regions for living, bison choose an area with rich, lush green vegetation. They feel great in endless valleys, or in thickets of broad-leaved trees. Also, bison populations are found in woodlands, valleys, plains.
Regions in which bison live in natural conditions:
- the area around Lake Athabasca;
- slave lake region;
- northwest Missouri regions;
- woodland and river basin: Buffalo, Peace, Birch.
Bison can be forest or steppe inhabitants. Species that prefer to live in valleys and open areas are concentrated south of Canada. Populations that choose a forested area as their region of residence are located further north.
Interesting historical fact. The part of the mainland on which New York is located is in shallow water, which was formed as a result of a large accumulation of the bodies of bison who drowned while trying to cross the Hudson Strait.
What does a bison eat? do bison eat?
Bison – exclusively herbivore. One adult needs to eat at least 25-30 kilograms of vegetation per day.
What is included in the diet of the animal:
- Young shoots of shrubs;
- Juicy, green foliage.
With the onset of cold weather, they begin to feed on plant rags. Animals are perfectly adapted to survive even in persistent frosts down to -25 and below. Powerful limbs allow you to dig out plants even under deep snow blockages, one or more meters thick. They rake them with their hooves and dig holes with their foreheads. It is for this reason that many individuals have bald spots in the frontal part of the head.
Every day, animals come to the reservoir without fail to quench their thirst. There is no way to drink enough only during the period of frost and freezing of reservoirs. Animal grazing occurs mainly at dusk or early in the morning. So the risk of becoming a victim of a predator is reduced, moreover, during the day, during a period of strong sunshine, they take refuge in the shade of vegetation, or in a forest.
Depending on the abundance and quantity of food, herds of bison roam from place to place. When choosing a route, animals stick to water bodies. Able to travel long distances. Subsequently, they can return again with warming to their former habitat. Lack of food, especially in the cold season, affects the quality of wool. Therefore, in severe frosts, animals that lack plant foods may suffer from cold.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Bison are herd ungulates. They form large herds, which in former times reached 17,000 to 20,000 individuals. The head of such a huge herd is always the wisest and oldest, but strong male. In such numerous herds, several males can share dominance at once.
Males, together with females and offspring, form a separate, small herd. The task of the main males is to protect the herd from strangers and enemies. Thanks to their superbly developed hearing and sense of smell, they are able to catch and detect danger long before it approaches.
An interesting fact. Bison are able to detect a stranger by smell at a distance of more than 3000 meters.
Despite the huge body size, weight and power, animals can be very fast and agile. They are able to overcome obstacles up to two meters high, gallop and reach speeds of up to 50 km/h. It is for these reasons that the inhabitants of America have abandoned attempts to domesticate this giant.
In addition to agility and dexterity on land, they are excellent swimmers and are able to swim significant distances.
Outwardly, the bison seems clumsy, very reserved and serene. If there are no irritating factors, the animal seems absolutely calm. If the bison is angered, he turns into a real death machine. In anger, he becomes very furious, ruthless and very cruel.
There were cases when bison, when pursued by predators, knocked down weaker and sicker individuals. In this way they dumped unnecessary ballast. This representative of herbivores is very smart and able to objectively assess the situation. During the fight, in the case when the enemy has an advantage, he retreats without exposing himself to mortal danger.
It is common for animals to communicate with each other through the issuance of certain sounds – deaf, menacing and low growls.
Social structure and reproduction
Bison do not form strong, long-lasting pairs. During the period of marriage, one male can have a whole harem, which includes from three to five or more females. The mating season is quite long – it lasts from May to mid-autumn. During a given period of time, single males, or herds, join populations of females.
A large herd is formed, in which serious competition and a struggle for the right to enter into a relationship with a female begins between males. Fights between males are manifested in the form of a collision with foreheads and confrontation with each other. Often such clashes end in the death of a weaker opponent. The winner is rewarded with the attention of the female. Males during the rut emit a powerful, strong, and very dull roar, reminiscent of the approach of a thunderstorm. They can be heard at a distance of 5-7 kilometers.
After mating, a gestation period begins, which lasts for 9-9.5 months. Most often, the female looks for a secluded, remote place for childbirth and leaves at the time of their onset. If she does not have time to find one, the calf is born right in the herd. One female can give birth to only one calf, the birth of two babies is a huge rarity. Other individuals of the herd show tenderness and care for the baby – they lick, protect, take care of him.
After 1.5-2 hours after birth, the baby can already stand on his feet and move after his mother.
Calves feed on fatty, high-calorie mother's milk for about a year. They very quickly gain body weight, grow stronger and mature. Calves are very nimble, frisky, and restless, love to jump and run. However, during this period they are defenseless and are easy prey for predators, therefore they are constantly in the field of view of adults. Bison reach sexual maturity at the age of 3-5 years. The average life expectancy in natural conditions is 23-26 years.
Natural enemies of bison
By virtue of their power, strength and huge size, bison have practically no enemies among the representatives of the animal world in natural conditions. An exception are wolves, which prey on young calves, as well as old and sick individuals. Predators cannot defeat young and strong bison, even spruces will attack them with a whole flock. Bison populations have declined substantially in recent centuries due to active human intervention. They were actively hunted by the Indians, whose lifestyle largely depended on these powerful herbivorous mammals.
Of particular value was the tongue and the hump, which was a storehouse of fat, from which stocks of provisions for the winter period were formed. Animal skins served as a source of raw material for the manufacture of clothing, and especially thick and dense sections were used to make shoes and soles for them. The Indians used all parts of the body of animals without exception.
In addition to clothes, tents, riding gear, cart reins, belts, etc. were made from leather and skins. Bison hair was the source for weaving strong ropes. Bones were used to make sharp cutting objects, kitchen utensils, fuel was made from droppings, and glue was made from hooves.
However, scientists have established that until 1840 human activity did not play a decisive role in the extermination of the species and its decline.
Population and species status
Over the past few centuries, the number of bison has declined to a catastrophic level. Under natural conditions, there are no more than 35,000 heads. The main mass is made up of steppe bison. It is also worth noting that animals are quite successfully bred on private farms. According to zoologists, the number of ungulates kept in captivity reaches 5,000 individuals.
This type of herbivore is listed in the Red Book. It has been given the status of a species that is on the verge of complete extinction. Bison are massively bred for industrial purposes on special farms. According to zoologists, there are about half a million heads on the territory of such farms.
At the beginning of the 18th century, there were about 60 million animals in natural conditions. After 1840, active hunting for herbivores began. It has acquired incredible proportions after only 25 years. At that time, the construction of a transcontinental railway line began, and in order to attract passengers, and, consequently, income, passengers were invited to become participants in an exciting journey.
Passengers of a moving train could open fire on peacefully grazing animals, leaving dozens of dying individuals. They were also killed in order to obtain meat to feed the workers who worked on the construction of the railway. There were such a huge number of bison that often their carcasses were not even butchered, only the tongue was cut out.
An interesting historical fact. The number of bison hunters grew steadily. By 1965 there were over two million. The most ardent – Buffalo Beal – destroyed 4280 individuals.
Bison are listed in the international Red Book with the status of an endangered species. In 1905, the American authorities understood and realized that animals were threatened with complete extinction, and created the American Convention for the Saving of Animals. Several reserves were created – Montana, Oklahoma, Dakota, the territory of which was under the protection of local authorities. Such events gave their results.
Already five years later, the number of animals doubled, and ten years later the number of individuals reached 9,000. In Canada, a large action was also carried out, which resulted in a numerous, active movement with the involvement of and local residents, aimed at combating the destruction of bison.
In 1915, Wood Buffalo National Park was created, designed to preserve and increase the number of wood bison. The bison is actively protected by animal rights activists and today its population is about 35,000 individuals.