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.