Do you like Western music? If so, you may be able to finish this sentence: “Oh, give me a home…” If you said, “Where the buffalo roam,” then today’s Wonder of the Day is for you!

What many people call the American buffalo is actually an animal named the American bison. True buffalos are different animals that live in Asia and Africa. American bison, on the other hand, live only in North America.

Early American settlers probably called bison “bufello” because French fur trappers called these huge animals boeufs due to their similarity to oxen. Over time, “bufello” changed to “buffalo” because of their similarity to the Asian and African animals of that name.

Despite the confusion over their names, bison and true buffalos are quite different animals. For example, bison have a large shoulder hump and huge heads. They also have thick beards that give them their unique burly appearance.

Buffalos, on the other hand, have lighter fur and no beards. Their horns are long, whereas bison horns are smaller and sharp.

American bison are associated closely with the American Old West. They once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds. Because of their size, bison have few natural predators. From time to time, wolves will prey upon smaller or younger bison in the late spring or early summer. Large bears have also been known to attack smaller bison occasionally.

In the 19th century, however, they nearly became extinct due to widespread commercial hunting. Thanks to the help of scientists and animal activists, American bison have made a comeback in the last few decades. Large herds once again roam wild, mainly in animal reserves and national parks. You can also see bison on farms all throughout the United States, as some people raise them for meat and fur.

As a symbol of the American Old West, bison are used often in official seals and flags. The U.S. states of Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming have even named the bison their official state mammal. Bison have also been used on coins from time to time. Most famously, a bison appeared on the back of the “buffalo nickel” from 1913 to 1938.

50 Join the Discussion

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    • HOORAY for our Wonder Friends in Ms. Bayko’s Class! Roam is a great vocabulary word– we bet the buffalo you saw were roaming the open range! We are glad you shared what you remembered from the class field trip last year. Sometimes those big animals can be super smelly! :-)

      Tomorrow’s Wonder will certainly be a treat… but what kind of delicious treat, we Wonder…? We’ll see you soon! :)

    • Hey there, Cool guy! We learned something new today, as well! It’s so interesting how “boeuf” turned into “buffelo”! We know the difference between bison and buffalo now, thanks to your great WONDERing! :)

  1. Wow I didn’t know buffalo and bison were diffrent.

    I think tomorrow’s wonder is about food.
    Or about cooking.
    I wonder what’s next.

    • We’re so glad you learned something new with us, Joaquin! We liked comparing and contrasting the images of bison and buffalo! Thanks for visiting us today, and sharing your marvelous guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder! :)

  2. Hey Wonderopolis I really enjoyed the video today. I learned a lot about buffalo and bison. It’s really interesting how bison and buffalo are different. I never thought they were different.

    Predictions For tomorrow… fire, cavemen discovering fire, and food that you cook.

    ~Anderw Baker, PEACE!

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Andrew! Great work today! We’re super happy that you have been comparing and contrasting buffalo and bison with us! It’s so much fun to learn something new about these great creatures!

      What SUPER guesses you have shared– we can’t wait to find out what’s cookin’ at Wonderopolis tomorrow! :)

    • Way to go, Hunter! Buffalo sure do like to roam around the open plains! Thanks for sharing your cool guess about tomorrow’s Wonder– we will see you then! :)

  3. Thanks for such a great Wonder today. We were so inspired by the difficulty people have telling the difference between bison and buffalo, we decided to make info-graphics demonstrating the differences. We took notes, and made a chart to help us remember all the important details.

    We think tomorrow’s Wonder will be all about foods that smell. We are afraid you might describe smelly cheeses.

    BTW, I’m married to Mrs. Swick who has been leaving comments from her class on your site lately. Just thought you should know.

  4. I loved today’s Wonder. I never knew that there were so many differences between the buffalo and the bison.

    My guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder: Thanksgiving, oven, breakfast, uses of pigs for food.

    • HOORAY, we’re so glad you learned something new with us, Rebecca! Thanks for sharing your comment AND your WONDERful guesses! See you tomorrow! :)

  5. Thoughts for today: How are buffalo rounded up when it’s time for them to be sold? Do people still hunt buffalo? How long do bison carry their offspring? About how many buffalo are born each year? We looked up the difference between a buffalo and a bison. How did buffalo sauce get its name?
    What do buffalo eat?

    Predictions: What food smells the best? How did cavement discover fire? When was candy invented? How are hamburgers made? Do people cook by themselves? What is the most common ingredient used by chefs when cooking? Did famous restaurants sell famous food? What are the most famous restaurants? What was the first type of candy? What is the most common food sold? What is the worst smelling food? Do you smell what the rock is cookin’? What is the first kind of food invented? Why is cooking called cooking?

    We have started getting other classrooms in our school interested in Wonderopolis. Thanks for all that you do. You teach us a lot.

    • Hi there, Wonder Friends in Mrs. Hess’ Class! We’re so proud of all of your for WONDERing with us today! We LOVE when you leave comments on your own, too! WAY TO GO! :-)

      Buffalo are still hunted today, you might even find buffalo meat in your grocery store today! The origin of buffalo sauce is still in question… some people claim that the delicious sauce started in Buffalo, New York. Others believe that buffalo sauce is named after the buffalo wings themselves. One thing is for sure– if you like spicy foods, buffalo sauce is the way to go! :)

      We hope you’ll continue to Wonder about how buffalo live today. As for tomorrow’s Wonder, we are sending you virtual high fives for your SUPER guesses! We can’t wait to find out what is cookin’ at Wonderopolis! In the meantime, you might enjoy this Wonder from the past: Wonder #448– How Did Candy Canes Get Their Shape? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/how-did-candy-canes-get-their-shape/ :)

  6. Hello Wonderopolis,
    We enjoyed learning about buffalo/bison. In Saskatchewan, Canada we use the term buffalo and bison to mean the same animal. In Wood Buffalo National Park located in northern Alberta, Wood Buffalo roam freely. Most of the buffalo in our area are raised on ranches. We think that tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day is about bison burgers!!!

    • Hello, Wonder Friends in Mrs. Bork’s Gr. 4/5 Class! We’re so happy you’re WONDERing with us today! :)

      We think it’s so cool that you are familiar with Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta! We learn something new everyday with the help of great Wonder Friends like you! Tomorrow’s Wonder is sure to be a treat… thanks for your awesome guess! See you soon! :)

  7. We are glad that the Bison will no longer be extinct.
    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about cupcakes and cookies.

    • We agree with you, Wonder Friends in Ms. Simoneau’s Class! Thanks for visiting us today and sharing your awesome comment! We can’t wait for tomorrow’s tasty Wonder! See you then! :)

  8. WOW I never knew there was another type of bison! I wonder what tomorrow’s wonder will be I hope it is something sweet or sour! I want it to be something wonderful and something to make me happy and have a beautiful day and I hope you have a beautiful day too! And I hope it is a good wonder! :) WONDERFUL WONDERS :)

    • Way to go, Smiley Face Girl! We’re thrilled that you’ve learned something new with us today! HOORAY! Tomorrow’s Wonder will be a treat indeed… we like the sweet and sour guess!

      We hope you’re having a SUPER day full of smiles! Thanks for sharing your comment with us! :)

  9. Tomorrow’s wonder is going to be pie or Thanksgiving is that right wonderoplis? Thanks for the wonder good afternoon.

  10. I’m back! Remember me from one post? I realy like the video. Very informational! I also figured out that you used “home on the range”!
    Why don’t you make a post about that song? That would be nice!

    • Hi there, Ririco! We’re glad you’re back! HOORAY! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about today’s Wonder… we are always searching for new Wonders, so thanks for sharing yours! Have a great day! :)

    • Hey there, Berkleigh! We’re glad you enjoyed this Wonder about buffalo and bison. We had fun comparing and contrasting the two animals! Thanks for visiting us today! :)

  11. We are learning about bison. We live in Kansas so they are our state animal. Thank you for giving us more information.

    • How perfect! What a great connection to your state animal, Wonder Friends in 2nd Grade Maslen/Library! What a cool way to Wonder about such a cool animal! Thanks for sharing your comment today! :)

  12. So cool I like buffolos. They live somewhere pretty. And a roundup sounds good for the animals. I like to study animals especialy marine animals. And I like animals so much, I even have a dog, her name is Khole Bella. P.S. I’m homeschooled.

    • WOW, how cool, Kaylee! We’re so happy to hear our animal Wonder was right up your alley! Perhaps you will be a marine biologist in the future?! What a cool career that would be!

      We hope you’re doing great, and make sure you say hi to Khole Bella for us, too! Have a WONDERful day! :)

  13. We learned that buffaloes were once called bison, we also learned that they used to be nearly extinct. Shawn thought that buffaloes didn’t have beards. Isabella didn’t know that a bison appeared on a buffalo nickel from 1913 to 1938. Isabella: “Do you know any other uses for buffalo feet?” Shawn:”Can you use buffalo as lunch meat?”

    • Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis and leaving us this great comment, Isabella and Shawn! Are there bison where you live? :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Where do the buffalo roam?
  • What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison?
  • Do bison still roam the United States?

Wonder Gallery

BuffaloVimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to learn more about buffalo and bison? Gather a herd of friends and family members to help you check out one or more of the following fun activities:

There are additional links at the bottom of the gallery page to several other photo galleries. Take some time to check them out!

  • Can you compare and contrast buffalo and bison? Make a simple comparison/contrast chart that describes and explains similarities and differences between buffalo and bison. Feel free to choose whatever criteria you would like to use to compare and contrast the two animals. Some ideas might include where they live, what they eat and what they look like. Have fun learning more about these incredible creatures!
  • When an animal does not have many natural predators, there must be other factors at work if it becomes endangered. In the case of the American bison, commercial hunting was to blame. Do some Internet research to find an example of another endangered animal that has few natural predators. What factors were involved in the reduction of that animal’s numbers? For example, could climate change or loss of habitat be at fault? Put your findings together in a simple report that you can present to friends, family members, teachers or classmates. Be sure to include pictures of your chosen animal, as well as statistics about its current numbers and prospects for the future.

Still Wondering

The northern Plains Indians used every part of the buffalo. Visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer to play the What Can You Make From a Buffalo? interactive matching game to match objects made by Native Americans from the buffalo.

Wonder What’s Next?

Can you smell that? We’re cooking up something good in Wonderopolis tomorrow!

Upload a Photo or Paste the URL of a YouTube or SchoolTube Video.