Wild Profile: Meet the bison

Published: November 5, 2019

By BGSmith/Shutterstock

Turns out, North America’s largest and clunkiest-looking land animal is pretty light on its feet. An adult bison can barrel along at 55 km/h or more, and leap nearly two vertical metres. Not bad for a beast that weighs at least as much as a Smart car. Sadly, only the rare, lucky cottager or cabin owner in Western Canada are likely to ever spot this prairie species in the wild.

Bison spend their summers wallowing in mud to stay cool and keep the bugs away. With thick skin and a shaggy coat, they’re much better suited to cold weather. Even when it snows, bison can graze year-round: they swing their huge heads back and forth to uncover vegetation.

How can a bison use its cranium like a snowplow? It’s thanks to that iconic shoulder hump, which begins to form when a calf is a few months old. Unlike a camel’s humps, which are filled with fat, a bison’s hump is made up of muscle and supported by vertebrae.

 

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