How much do you know about bison?

A herd of bison in the snow
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Bison have been named our new national mammal. Test your knowledge of this species that's so critical to North America's ecology.

Question 1 of 11

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Bison in a prairie
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How many bison roamed the continent before Europeans arrived?

As many as 60 million of these huge animals may have once grazed the plains of North America. Despite the bisons' seemingly limitless numbers, habitat loss and unregulated shooting caused the population to drop to a mere 1,091 by 1889. Only through conservation was this species spared from extinction.

Question 2 of 11

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Bison challenging each other during the rut
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Bison have excellent eyesight.

Bison have many great qualities but eyesight isn't one of them. They're fairly nearsighted animals. To make up for it, their sense of smell and hearing are both quite good.

Question 3 of 11

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The bison is a giant among North America's mammals.
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The bison is North America's largest land mammal.

These large and heavily muscled grazers can grow to be as tall as 6.5 feet at the shoulder, and up to 12.5 feet in length. Mature males can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. The bison ties the moose in height, but beats it in weight, winning the title of the largest land mammal on the continent.

Question 4 of 11

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A bison jumps a fence
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How high can bison jump?

They may be heavy, but bison are light on their feet. These agile animals can jump an impressive 6 vertical feet and more than 7 horizontal feet.

Question 5 of 11

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A large bison grazes on a mountainside.
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What happens to the areas grazed and trampled by bison?

The grazing activity of bison is highly beneficial to prairie ecology, including keeping grasses short so prairie dogs can watch for predators, turning the soil so seeds get buried in the dirt, fertilizing the land with their manure, and creating wallows that turn into ponds after rains, just to name a few. Mary Miller, manager at the Samuel H. Ordway, Jr. Memorial Preserve, which hosts a herd of 300 bison, notes, “They graze all year, even in winter, and focus on grasses, allowing wildflowers to thrive. The result is a varied grassland that is good for more kinds of butterflies, pollinating insects and grassland-nesting birds. Biodiversity is enhanced.”

Question 6 of 11

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Bison are fast runners
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What's the top speed bison can run?

Some sources say bison hit tops speeds of 30 mph while others say 40 mph. Either way, they're fast! That's why it's best to not get too close since you definitely can't outrun a charging bison.

Question 7 of 11

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A bison is a powerful animal
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A bison’s hump is composed of:

It's all muscle! According to Yellowstone National Park, "A bison’s massive hump is comprised of muscles supported by long vertebrae; this allows a bison to use its head as a snowplow in winter, swinging side to side to sweep aside the snow."

Question 8 of 11

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Bison were hunted to near-extinction
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Where is the only place in the U.S. where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times?

According to Yellowstone National Park: "We know they lived here in centuries past due to fossils, oral histories from Indian tribes, and the stories of the earliest travelers to this region." In other areas where bison are found, the species was wiped out by hunting or habitat loss and reintroduced later. Bison still inhabit only a tiny fraction of their original range.

Question 9 of 11

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A bison calf stands in a field
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What is a 'red dog'?

Bison calves are born with reddish orange coat color, and lack the characteristic shoulder hump of older bison. That's how they got the nickname "red dogs." Once they're a few months old, their coat begins to darken to the deep brown of adults and they begin to form the familiar hump.

Question 10 of 11

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Bison are herd animals
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American bison are related to what other animal?

Bison (Bison bison) are not closely related related to buffalo, despite the commonly misused name. The two buffalo species are located in Asia and Africa whereas American bison are native to North America. They are, however, related to wisent, the European bison (Bison bonasus).

Question 11 of 11

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Do not approach bison, which are famously unpredictable.
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Bison are dangerous animals to approach.

As continual news reports of overly daring Yellowstone tourists being gored or tossed by bison prove, it isn't wise to get anywhere near these fast and heavily muscled animals. While they look calm and docile much of the time, they are wild and unpredictable. If they decide to charge — which they often do — they can gore or trample a person. Respect the power of this national mammal and keep your distance.

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A herd of bison in the snow
Photo: BlazingBighornStudios/Shutterstock