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Did you celebrate National Bison Day?

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Amsterdam News Staff | 11/8/2012, 5:42 p.m.
Did you celebrate National Bison Day?

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Did you celebrate National Bison Day?

Nov. 1 was National Bison Day!

The bison has been honored with a place on the defunct Buffalo nickel. It also appears on the state flags of Wyoming and Kansas, both of which, along with Oklahoma, have adopted it as their state mammal. Now there's a campaign under way to make the bison America's National Mammal.

The American bison is commonly known as the American buffalo. These animals once dominated the plains and grasslands of North America, from Canada's Great Bear Lake to the Mexican states of Durango and Nuevo Leon. With few predators large enough to challenge them, their herds once numbered in the millions. The bison is a member of the bovine family and is the largest land mammal in North America.

What's in a name?

The word "bison" is a Greek word meaning an ox-like animal. It is believed that the word "bison" originated with French fur trappers who called them "boeufs," meaning ox or bullock. The Lakota called them "tahtanka," which also means bull. Bison are commonly referred to as buffalo, but they are, in fact, just a distant relative to the "true" buffalo species, the Asian water buffalo and the African buffalo. The American bison is distinguished from the buffalo by its thick winter coat and large hump. They are more closely related to the European bison.

There are five types of bison. The Plains bison and wood bison are both subspecies of the American bison that we know. Also in the family are the Wisent (European Bison), Cape buffalo, (found in Africa) and Asian water buffalo.

Though bison are also related to the domestic cow, there is nothing domestic about them. Native people never tried to tame them, and Europeans who tried had no luck. These animals, while routinely docile, have a wild side when agitated. They can jump as high as 6 feet straight up.

The bison has a shaggy, wooly coat that turns dark brown in the winter and light brown in the warmer months. They can stand more than 6 feet tall and can range in weight from 700 to well over 2,000 pounds. But despite their bulk, they are quick and agile and can run at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.

Both males and females have short, curved horns that can grow up to 2 feet. These are used for fighting for territory and mating rights, though few battles are fought to the death.

These massive animals are herbivores, meaning that they eat only plants--and lots of them, all day long. Bison will typically graze (eat grass) in two-hour sessions, rest and chew cud (regurgitated grass), before moving on to a new section to start all over again.

Just like their more common bovine kin, males are called bulls and females are called cows. Mating takes place in August and September, with pregnancy lasting for nine months. The baby calves are usually a reddish-brown color and will nurse for up to 18 months or until the mother has another calf.