It is common to make mistakes while identifying the two animals as both of them are very similar. Sometimes the words are also used interchangeably in some parts of the world. This is because they both are large herbivores belonging to the family Bovidae. However, some key differences help identify each species.
Bison vs Buffalo
The difference between bison and buffalo mainly lies in their physical and habitual attributes, such as humps, horns, and homes. While bison have larger humps on broader shoulders, their horns are comparable to that of a cow. The horns buffaloes are larger and curved, and their range is limited to certain geographical areas.
Bison are even-toed ungulates, which mean they are grazing animals belonging to the family Bovidae and Genus Bison. Physically they resemble domestic cattle but have a larger asymmetrical body. Their large headrests on broad shoulders also hold a large muscle hump to support the head. Two large horns are present on their heads that resembles a handlebar’s moustache. They also have what looks like a beard, an outgrowth of fur.
Buffaloes are even-toed ungulates, also belonging to the family Bovidae belonging to the Genus Bubalis and Syncerus. These animals also resemble domestic cattle but have a much more symmetrical body. They have a comparatively smaller head with larger arched horns. Their hump of muscles is missing owing to the head size. They have smooth dark-coloured bodies without shaggy fur coats.
Comparison Table Between Bison and Buffalo
|Parameters of Comparison||Bison||Buffalo|
|Scientific Name||Bison bison ( American Bison) Bison bonasus ( European Bison)||Bubalis bubalis (Water Buffalo) Syncerus caffer (Cape Buffalo)|
|Genus||All bison belong to the single Genus Bison.||Buffaloes are classified into two genera, Bubalis and Syncerus.|
|Body Size||Bison is naturally larger.||Buffaloes are comparatively smaller.|
|Body Weight||Bison are larger than buffaloes in general and thus weigh more than 1000kgs.||Buffaloes are heavy animals and can weigh up to 900kgs.|
|Heads||They have comparatively large heads.||They have smaller heads in general.|
|Humps||To support the large head they have a large muscle hump on their shoulder.||Muscle hump on the shoulder is absent.|
|Beard||They have extended fur from their lower jaw area that looks like a beard.||Buffaloes are beardless.|
|Horns||They have smaller and sharper horns.||They have larger and arched horns.|
|Legs||They have shorter, stumpy legs.||They have longer, leaner legs.|
|Fur Coat||They generally have a shaggy winter coat that they shed in the summer.||Buffaloes have smooth thin fur coat that don’t shed.|
|Behaviour||They are more aggressive generally and cannot be tamed.||Buffaloes are also known to be aggressive but evidence of domestication is found around the world.|
|Age of reproduction||They reproduce upon sexual maturity within two to three years.||Buffaloes however do not breed until six years of age.|
|Home Range||They are limited to parts of America and Europe.||They are found in parts of America, Africa and Asia.|
|Status of Endangerment||Bison is not a nearly endangered species according to the IUCN.||Buffaloes are not considered threatened animals.|
What is Bison?
Bison is a herbivore animal found in parts of America and Europe. They are even-toed grazing animals belonging to the Genus Bison. Generally, they are large animals and are considered to be one of the largest bovines. They have a huge head that is supported by a muscle hump on their shoulder that makes them top-heavy, which is a characteristic of the species.
Physically they appear like cows but flaunt a beard and sharp horns. They have stumpy short legs making them look heavy. They are confident, aggressive animals that always travel and live in herds. Usually, they also have a messy fur coat that they shed in the summer and keeps them warm in the winters. They communicate through snorts and grunts.
They are mammals which means they give birth to young ones. They reach sexual maturity at the age of two or three. They are also all year round grazers and usually inhabit the plains. Or areas with ample food and water supply. They can live up to fifteen to twenty years in the wild. They are aggressive and usually do not have many predators due to their large size (3.8 m).
Bison was a threatened species of animals, with very few of them living in the wild, but today it has a nearly stable population and is considered a nearly threatened species by the IUCN.
What is Buffalo?
Buffalo is a common term used to describe species belonging to Family Bovidae and Genus Bubalis and Syncerus, meaning water buffalo and cape buffalo, respectively. They are large-bodied grazing animals found across the world, especially in South Asia and Africa.
Physically these large herbivore has a comparatively small head resting on a broad shoulder. It has a dark body colour and is characterized by smooth skin and a thin fur coat. Identifying characters of these species is its large arched horns that can decapitate a human if threatened. They lack any facial fur outgrowth like that in bison. They are mammals and usually give birth to only one young one. Females usually do not reproduce until six years of age.
They may be solitary or may live in herds. They are also aggressive and usually do not have many predators. They weigh around 900 kgs and are 3.4 m in length. They usually prefer to live in damp environments or near a water source. They are often found in swamps and dig characteristic ditches to take mud baths that act as a sunscreen. They usually communicate with moos.
Main Differences Between Bison and Buffalo
- Bison belongs to the Genus Bison, while Buffalo belongs to the Genus Bubalis or Syncerus.
- Bison are larger as well as heavier than buffaloes. Their height alone exceeds 1.5 meters. They weigh between 300-1000 kgs.
- Bison have a large head that has to be supported by the muscle hump on its shoulder. Buffalo, on the other hand, has a smaller head without any hump, which makes the upper part of their body more symmetrical than the anteriorly heavy bison.
- Bison has smaller moustache shaped horns that are sharp. Buffaloes have longer, more arched horns that can almost extend to a meter.
- Bison are found in a smaller geographical range of habitat than the more widely spread buffalo.
- Bison flaunts a beard and thus is often called hipsters of the plain, while buffaloes lack any such beard.
- Bison also have a characteristic thick shaggy winter fur coat that they shed in the summers, while buffaloes have smoother fur.
- Bison were once threatened but today have stable numbers, while buffaloes are a threatened species.
Although bison and buffalo may look alike from a distance, they have important characteristics that make them different. The terms must not be confused as they are not related species and have different habitats. For scientific study and educational reasons, the key difference between bison and buffalo must be learnt and correctly propagated. Bison is a completely wild bovine species larger in size and weight with larger heads and a beard, while buffaloes are tamer smaller species that do not appear as heavy as the other. The horns and humps must be examined to understand and classify these two species correctly.