(Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)
What’s fast on its feet, has a major vertical jump, and can quickly pivot when in defense mode? No, it’s not a professional basketball player with superstar skills. It’s our national mammal, the bison. In celebration of these big fluffy behemoths, Saturday, November 4, is designated as National Bison Day. And what you don’t know about these scraggly-bearded giants might actually surprise you.
5 Fun Facts About Bison
1. They're pretty agile.
Bison are the largest mammals in North America, but don't let their size fool you. Despite weighing about a ton, they have a vertical jump of up to 6 feet, are good swimmers and can spin around quickly to defend themselves against predators. They've also been clocked at 35-40 miles per hour when running at full speed.
2. Their tails tell a story.
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, if a bison's tail is hanging down and switches naturally side to side, the bison is usually calm. But if a bison's tail suddenly stands straight up, be on the alert. It may be ready to charge. "It's great to love bison," the agency states, "but love them from a distance" due to their unpredictable nature.
3. They're known to wallow.
Pigs aren't the only animals that like to wallow in the dirt. Bison will roll around in dirt to help shed their fur and to try to prevent the bites of pesky insects. They will also wallow during mating season to leave behind their scent and to show off their stamina.
4. They're prehistoric.
Bison have been around since prehistoric times, and Yellowstone National Park in the northwest has amazingly always had a bison population. The National Wildlife Federation reports that based on fossils and accounts from early travelers, this national park is the only place in the U.S. where bison have lived continuously. This means the animals that currently roam the park are the pure descendants of these earliest ancestors. While the American bison was close to extinction in the late 1800s, today – thanks to the efforts of conservationists – bison can now be found in all 50 states including national parks, wildlife refuges and private lands.
5. They have built-in snow plows.
A bison's shoulder hump isn't just a pretty decoration. It's made up of muscle and supported by long vertebrae that let the bison use its head to plow through snow. Because bison are plant eaters and forage between 9 and 11 hours a day, this special skill comes in handy in the winter. It allows this massive animal to swing its head from side to side, clearing the snow and creating foraging patches.
Interested in celebrating National Bison Day? The U.S. Forest Service's Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington will be hosting a National Bison Day Event on November 4. Motorized tours to see the bison have already booked up, but other activities are planned, including the opportunity to talk with a ranger or pick up some additional bison facts. The public can also hike or bike the trails to try to get a glimpse of the bison. Binoculars or a spotting scope are recommended since the bison are often grazing a long distance from the trail.
For more information, call Midewin's welcome center at 815.423.6370. The welcome center will be open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on the day of the event. Midewin's trails are open from 4 a.m.-10 p.m. year-round.
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