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Fast Fact: Bison

Can you guess North America’s largest mammal? It’s the American bison, or what you might call a buffalo. Male bison can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds and stand 6 feet tall. Females are smaller, weighing about 1,000 pounds and standing between 4 feet and 5 feet tall. At birth, bison calves weight between 30 pounds and 70 pounds.

A bison walking in a prairie.
(Photo courtesy of Greg DuBois)

Why do we call bison buffalo? Historians believe the term buffalo comes from the French word for beef, which is “boeuf.” Early European settlers began calling bison buffalo when they began encountering them in the American West. Native peoples had different terms for bison, which they relied on for their survival. The Lakota called bison tatanka, while the Navajo called them ivanbita and Blackfoot tribes called them iinniiwa.

Hundreds of years ago, bison freely roamed Illinois and much of America. While they no longer freely roam here, you can see them in a few places in Illinois, including at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington.


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