American Bison, Bison bison
March 2009

SDZ Global Logo

Image credit: Sean Brady at Flickr. Some rights reserved.


(Buntjer et al 2002) (Guthrie 1970) (Meagher 1986) (McDonald 1981) (Prusak et al 2004) (Nowak 1999)

Describer (Date): Linnaeus 1758. Systema Naturae for Bison bison

Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
        Class: Mammalia
              Order: Artiodactyla* (Even-toed hoofed animals: includes pigs, sheep goats, cattle, deer)
                  Family: Bovidae (Cattle, water buffalo, bison, antelopes, goats, sheep and more)
                           Genus: Bison
                                  Species: Bison priscus (extinct
Steppe Bison)
                                  Species: Bison latifrons (extinct Long-horned Bison)
                                  Species: Bison antiquus (extinct Ancient Bison)

Bison bison (American Bison)
                                       Subspecies: Bison bison
bison (American Plains Bison)
                                       Subspecies: Bison bison
athabascae (American Wood Bison)
                                  Species:  Bison bonasus (European Bison)
                                       Subspecies: Bison bonasus bonasus (Lowland Bison)
                                       Subspecies: Bison bonasus caucasicus (extinct in 1925)
                                       Subspecies: Bison bonasus hungarorum (extinct Hungarian Bison)
*New anatomical and DNA evidence on the relationship between Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates) and Cetacea (whales and dolphins) recently led to a merging of the two orders into a new group, Cetartiodactyla (Montgelard, 1997; reviewed in Kulemzina, 2009). As of October 2012, experts had not agreed on whether to define Cetartiodactyla as an official taxonomic order that would replace Artiodactyla and Cetacea. Some continue to list bison in the order Artiodactyla (Franklin, 2011) or use the term Cetartiodactyla without defining it as an order (IUCN, 2008).

Taxonomic History and Nomenclature

(McDonald 1981) (Meagher 1986) (Nowak 1999)

Distribution (of North American bison)
Bison distribution map

American bison historical distribution. Click on map for current detailed distribution (IUCN).

From IUCN Bison bison fact sheet.






(Buchholtz & Sambraus 1990) (Guthrie 1990) (Lott 1974, 2003) (Meagher 1986) (McDonald 1981) (McHugh 1958)(Nowak 1999)

Body Weight: Males 544 - 907 kg (1,199 - 2,000 lb); females 318 - 545 kg (701 - 1,202 lb); Woods Bison generally larger and heavier than Plains Bison, but much overlap (McDonald 1981)
Body Length: Males 3,040 - 3,800 mm (10 - 12 ft); females 2,130 - 3,180 (7 - 10 ft)    
Height at Shoulder: Males 1,670 -1860 mm (5.5 - 6.1 ft); females 1,520-1,570 (5 - 5.1 ft)
Tail Length: Males 330 - 910 mm (1.1 - 3 ft.); females 300 - 510 mm (1.0 - 1.7 ft)
Horns: Arch backwards and upwards with points aimed somewhat inwards. (Grzimek 1990)

General Description

Pelage   Sexual Dimorphism Other Physical Characteristics
(Guthrie 1990) (Lott 2002) (McHugh 1958) (McMillan 2000) (Meagher 1973, 1986) (Mooring 2006) (Nowak 1990) (Powell 2006)(Roden et al 2004) (Van Vuren 1983)

Activity Cycle Territory Size Social Groups

      General       Hierarchy       Territorial Behavior       Aggression Play Communication

        Visual Signs       Vocalization       Olfaction/Scent Marking
Locomotion Interspecies Interaction

(Guthrie 1990) (Hawley et al 1981) (Peden et al 1974)


(Berger 1992) (Buchholtz & Sambraus 1990) (Rutberg 1986) (Komers et al 1994) (Lott 2002) (Meagher 1986) (McDonald 1981) (Mooring et al 2006) (Nowak 1999) (Weigl 2005)

Courtship Reproduction Gestation Life Stages
      Birth       Infant (< 1 year old)       Juvenile      Adult  Longevity Mortality

(Grizmeck 1990) (Marris 2009)

(Grizmek 1990) (Halbert & Derr 2007) (Lott 2002) (Marris 2009) (McDonald 1981)(Nowak 1999)

Population Status Conservation Threats to survival
Important Web Resources:

©2009 San Diego Zoo Global. Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Global makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to

Return to the Fact Sheet Index