What is the Difference Between Bison and Buffalo?

There's often confusion between Bisons and Buffalos. Both oxlike animals often make us doubt our perception. Though these large, horned creatures may look similar, there are key differences that can help you distinguish them from one another. Find out What’s the Difference Between Bison and Buffalo here!
Difference Between Bison and Buffalo
Difference Between Bison and Buffalo

Key Points


  • It is most common in North America to be confused by a Bison and buffalo.
  • Their shoulder shape and horn length is the key difference. Another major difference is the presence of a hump.
  • True Buffalo are found in Asia and Africa while Bison live in North America.

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It’s not very uncommon to get confused between a bison and a buffalo as both are large, horned, oxlike animals of the Bovidae family. 

What adds more confusion is that despite being a misnomer, buffalo remains a common term used when referring to the American bison in North America.

However, it’s not as difficult to distinguish between them. You can focus on the three H’s: home, hump, and horns, and problem solved! You're a Buffalo and Bison genius now.

Though before declaring that let's dive in a bit deeper and find out what makes these oxlike creatures so different.


What is a Bison?

A bison is a large, wild animal that looks so similar to a cow, just with a larger head and hairy shoulders. 

They can be seen roaming in North America.  Though referred to as a buffalo in the United States and Canada, it is only distantly related to the true buffalo. They are known as the large bovines in the genus Bison and in Greek as"wild ox".


What is a Buffalo? 

The subtribe of wild cattle that includes the various species of true buffalo, Bubalina includes the African buffalo, the anoas, and the wild water buffalo (including the domesticated variant water buffalo). 

They can be seen grazing or swimming. In the water bodies of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Domestic and feral populations have also been introduced to Europe, the Americas, and Australia. These bubalinans maintain an extensive fossil record found in much of Afro-Eurasia where their remains are discovered.


Are Bison and Buffalo the same?

No, because despite being sometimes referred to as buffaloes, bison are not members of the Bubalina, but are instead classified in the subtribe Bovina.

Types of Bison and Buffalo


There are two kinds of bison:  


1. The American bison

This North American animal has two subspecies namely: 

  • Plains (Bison bison):  Found mostly on the American prairie.
  • Wood Bison: Found in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska.

2. The European (Bison Bonasus)

This species was extinct in the wild, but was bred in captivity and reintroduced across Europe in the late 20th century.

and two forms of buffalo


1. Water buffalo: 

  • Asian water (Bubalus arnee): Resembles a domestic cow, found primarily in India and is considered endangered.
  • Domestic water (Bubalus bubalis): found in China and other parts of Asia.


2. African/Cape (Syncerus caffer): A large, dangerous creature found in Africa with broad, curling horns that cover much of the tops of their heads. 

Difference Between Buffalo and Bison






2,200 to 2,500 lbs.

1,300 to 2,000 lbs.


15 to 20 years

15 to 25 years


Grasslands, prairies, forests

Woodland, grass pastures, marshes


American bison in North America.

African buffalo and water buffalo.


Large heads and a shoulder hump

Larger horns and no shoulder hump


Heavy, shed in warmer months


Speed and Movement Type

35 mph

30 mph


5 ft-6 ft

4ft – 4.5ft


– Poor eyesight as they are nearsighted

– Powerful sense of smell that can locate animals more than a mile away

– Great sense of hearing

– Great sense of smell

– Very good eyesight

– Excellent sense of hearing


– Vast body size

– High speed

– Massive body

– Speed

Offensive Capabilities

– Trampling

– Ramming with horns

– Can trample and stomp on other creatures

– Uses horns to gore enemies


Europe, North America

Asia, Africa

Generally speaking, though, it’s clear that bison and buffalo are highly different and rather easy to tell apart when you are looking at their most noticeable differences.

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Is a Bison the same thing as a Buffalo?

o, buffalo and bison are different species, though they are both in the cow family

What's the difference between a Bison and a Buffalo? (IN SHORT)

Buffalos are smaller and have larger horns compared to their head size. Bison are only found in North America.

Is a bison larger than a buffalo?

Yes, a side-by-side comparison shows that a bison is generally larger than a buffalo, particularly through the head and shoulders. They are also longer.
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