Bison, symbolic animals of the Great Plains, are often mistakenly called buffaloes. By any name, they are formidable beasts and the heaviest land animals in North America.
Bison once covered the Great Plains and much of North America, and were critically important to Plains Indian societies. During the 19th century, settlers killed some 50 million bison for food, sport, and to deprive Native Americans of their most important natural asset. The once enormous herds were reduced to only a few hundred animals. Today, bison numbers have rebounded somewhat, and about 500,000 bison live on preserves and ranches where they are raised for their meat.
Bison stand some 5 to 6.5 feet tall at the shoulder, and can tip the scales at over a ton. Despite their massive size, bison are quick on their feet. When the need arises they can run at speeds up to 40 miles an hour. They sport curved, sharp horns that may grow to be two feet long.
These large grazers feed on plains grasses, herbs, shrubs, and...