Bison Types: A Complete List of All Species

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 25th September 2023

A Bison in Yellowstone fall
A Bison in Yellowstone fall / mayur_gala777 via Istock

Bison are large mammals of the Bovidae family and the genus Bison.

Only two species are left across the world, the American bison and the European bison, or wisent.

Each species is the largest land mammal in North America and Europe, respectively.

Bison look like other animals in the bovine family, like buffalo and cattle.

They are broad, muscular, and possess long, shaggy coats.

Both species were almost extinct due to human activities in the 19th and 20th centuries, but conservation efforts have preserved them over the years.

Pair of big American Bison buffalo grazing
Pair of big American Bison buffalo grazing / Kyryl Gorlov via iStock

The American bison is no longer endangered, although not completely out of danger.

The wisent, on the other hand, is still an endangered species.

To put things in perspective, let’s take a look at these two species in detail.

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2. American Bison

American Bison
American Bison | dmbaker via Getty Images

The American bison, with the scientific name Bison bison, belongs to the family Bovidae.

They also exist in two subspecies: the wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) and the plains bison (Bison bison bison).

Once upon a time, millions of bison roamed the earth’s surface.

Unfortunately, human intervention and buffalo overhunting, especially in the 19th century, caused the number of bison to reduce from about 30 million to about 1,000.

Thankfully, conservation efforts have seen these numbers rise, and according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, bison are no longer on the brink of extinction.

The American bison is the biggest land mammal in North America; a mature bull can reach 6.2 feet in height and 8.9-12.5 feet in length.

Their female counterparts are naturally smaller, reaching about 1.5 meters in height and 7.2-10.5 feet in length.

Close up shot of an American Bison
Close up shot of an American Bison / Helen H. Richardson via Getty Images

Also, while males can weigh nearly 2000 pounds or more, females usually weigh around 900-1000 pounds.

These species are well known for their dark chocolate-brown fur, with short, dense hair on their hindquarters and flanks and long hair on their head, shoulders, and forelegs.

They all have a protruding shoulder hump and short upward-curving horns.

During prehistoric times, wood bison lived primarily in Alaska, the Yukon, and other northwest regions down to the northern areas of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia; the plain bison dominated the Great Plains of central North America.

Currently, you can find bison in all 50 states of the United States, including national parks, wildlife refugees, as well as private and tribal lands.

However, you have a higher chance of seeing one in its natural habitat if you visit Yellowstone National Park.

1. European Bison

European Bison
European Bison | SzymonBartosz via Getty Images

The European bison, with the scientific name Bison bonasus, is another bison that still roams the earth, but the journey out of extinction was not easy.

Like the American bison, the European bison once dominated central, southeastern, and western Europe until human settlement, agriculture, and poaching drove these animals to near extinction in the early 20th century.

Only a few remained in European zoos then, and over the years, the animals were bred to increase the number of European bison.

According to the IUCN, these animals are no longer vulnerable but are still near threatened.

These species are also called wisent and closely resemble their American cousin.

They’re also considered the biggest land animal in Europe, although they are slightly smaller and less hairy than the American bison.

A European bison seen in Białowieża National Park
A European bison seen in Białowieża National Park / DamianKuzdak via iStock

Still, they are taller. European bison can be about 5.9 to 6.4 feet high and 9.5 feet long.

They can also weigh about 2000 pounds, with their fur ranging between golden brown and dark brown.

Wisents also feature humped shoulders and short legs, although they have a longer mane beneath the neck and on the forehead.  

You can find European bison across Germany, Poland, Denmark, Lithuania, and other European nations.

The wisent inhabits mixed and deciduous forests with low-lying, open grasslands in the wild.

Nevertheless, thanks to active conservation programs, European wildlife sanctuaries, and national parks are home to many of these animals.


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