One of America’s most iconic creatures is the American Bison, or Buffalo. While this wooly mammal (not wooly mammoth) used to roam freely over most of the American continent, the population has now dwindled to near-extinction in the wild – the result of years of thoughtless and needless slaughter combined with a drastic reduction of its natural grassland habitat (more about the grasslands in my next post). Another great factor leading to the downfall of this grazing giant is the introduction of bovine diseases carried by domestic cattle. The buffalo is actually the United States’ native bovine, not the cattle that are so common to the American landscape today. Those cattle are of Spanish descent, with a variety of the Texas Longhorn being the first variety in the States. The American Bison was here first, and has a solid place in history through art, early writings, and iconic figures like Buffalo Bill, early US money (Buffalo nickel, ten dollar bill), and even postage stamps.
So, what is the difference between a buffalo and a bison? None! Buffalo is merely an Anglicization of the French word for the animal. American Bison has since been assigned as the official name to aid in reducing confusion. (Which, if you were confused, makes you wonder how well that worked?) There are actually two definite species of American Bison – the Plains Bison and the Wood Bison. They differ very little, except in size, the Wood Bison being slightly larger. Genetically, it is now very rare to see a pure Bison, as they breed so readily with cattle. Farmers are allowed to keep domestic herds of buffalo, and have interbred them to create better flavors of meat and hardier cattle. The photos included with this blog are of the pure Bison found in the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas.
So, just how large are these critters, and what do they “do for a living?” Well, they are very large, with an average of about 1,500lbs. Many males reach over a ton in weight (2,000lbs, for those of you looking quizzical). As for what they do . . . well, they eat. And they eat, and eat, and eat! They are entirely herbivores, so to maintain their healthy weight, they eat a lot of grass! They generally graze for about two hours, rest for a while and chew the cud, then move to a new grazing spot and repeat the process. This grazing is actually essential to the survival of grasslands, and the disappearance of the buffalo may be a large factor in the disappearance in the grasslands that used to cover an enormous portion of the US.
So, what makes a buffalo special? Are there any traits that point to a careful design of a wise Creator? There certainly are! Take, for instance, the bison habit of “horning” trees. They will rub cedars and pines with their horns, causing the trees to ooze sap, which smells quite strong. This sappy smell acts as a great deterrent to bugs, thus protecting the herd’s general area from a great number of unwanted bites. Another insect-relieving habit is that of wallowing. Bison will roll in small depressions in the ground, either wet or dry, thus coating themselves with mud or dust. This helps protect against bugs, as well as aiding in shedding. It also appears to be a social behavior as well.
Another great invention that simply could not have evolved is that of the multi-stomach cud-chewing method of digesting food. This system, also common in cattle, deer, elk, and a variety of other animals is a remarkable provision enabling an herbivore (entirely plant-eating animal) to digest every possible nutrient from the plants it eats. This system had to be planned and created, as evolution of such a multi-stomach system would have resulted in extinction of any species in the process of developing it! This same principle applies to the evolutionary theory in general. In any “trial and error” system like the development of biology, an error would result in death of the species! So, thankfully, we have a wise and all-knowing Creator. All creatures, great and small, from the great American Bison to the lowly Prairie Dog (article & photos coming soon) are part of a grand design and ecosystem carefully planned and created by God!