Bison or Buffalo?

Is it a bison or buffalo?

      Because bison in America resembled the buffalo of the old world, explorers also called them buffalo.  Actually, the word buffalo is believed to have been used by English settlers.  This term was said to have been a modification of the name "les boeufs" which French explorers gave to oxen or cattle.  Spanish explorers referred to bison as cattle, "vacas de tierra"  or cows of the country. 
      The term evolved, and soon many variations such as "buffler,"   "boeffle,"  and "buffilo"  were used. 
      Although the terms buffalo and bison are now used synonymously, the scientific name for the "buffalo" found in America is bison.  There are three main types of bison in the world.  These are:  the plains bison, the woods bison, and the European wisent bison. 
     The Texas State Bison Herd are plains bison which are also referred to as bison bison.  These mammals have long beards, and the horns are often covered by their  shaggy hair.  There is a sharp distinction in the texture and color of the pelage.
    The wood bison or bison athabascae is larger and darker than the plains bison.  It has a longer neck and a more abrupt change in the contour from the shoulders to the back.  The hair is longer and lower on the forehead of the wood bison.  This type of bison was also referred to as the mountain bison and is found in the northern part of  America and Canada. 

      The bison athbascae are larger than the bison bison.  This follows Burgman's Rule which states the farther north one goes, the larger the animals tend to be.   Animals in the south tend to be smaller because they do not need the additional surface area to absorb heat.
      There is another type of bison which is known as bison bonasus.  These animals are found in Europe.  Most of these bison live on preserves in Russia or Poland.  These animals appear more like an ox.  They have smaller heads that are carried higher than American bison.  Its body and legs are longer.  The pelage is less shaggy, and the tail is longer.  Overall, the body  has less imposing forequarters and larger hindquarters.
      The "true" buffalo are often  referred to as those in Asia or Africa.  They belong to a different family than the American bison.  The physical differences are more evident.  These buffalo do not have a large hump and have a more slick appearance.

Student Challenge!

Many times, people have names for animals that are different from their "real" or scientific names.  Have students list some of these, along with their various names. 
(Example: mountain lion or puma)

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