What's The Difference Between Bison and Buffalo?

A bison is often confused as a buffalo, thanks to the early European settlers in North America who started addressing these animals as buffaloes. There are quite a lot of similarities, but a look at the hump on the shoulder of a bison can tell the difference. Also, bison have a heavy beard while buffaloes don't.

Analyzing Bison vs. Buffalo Definition

Let us have a look at the definitions of bison and buffalo before getting deep into understanding their differences.

Definition of Bison:

Bison is a large and hairy wild animal found in North America and Europe. It is similar to a cow but carries a larger head and muscular shoulders with a large hump over them.

Definition of Buffalo:

Buffalo is a large wild animal found in South Asia and Africa. It is similar to a cow but carries large horns that curve upwards.

What Is The Similarity Between a Buffalo and a Bison? 

In bison vs. buffalo comparison, it is essential to know the similarities between the two mammals as these are the origination of confusion between the two terms.

  • Both bison and buffalo are large, ox-like creatures.
  • Both animals have similar horns.
  • Bison and buffalo belong to the same family Bovidae in the animal kingdom.
  • Both species have four feet and a massive structure.
  • Bison or buffalo do not eat meat. They are herbivorous animals.
  • Humans utilize both bison and buffaloes for meat.

What Is The Difference Between Bison and Buffalo?

The key differences between the two animals are discussed in detail here. 

  • The major difference between the species is the presence of a hump at the shoulder of a bison while there is no such hump at the shoulder of a buffalo.
  • Bison are found in some parts of Europe and North America, whereas buffaloes can be found in South Asia and Africa. 
  • Another difference between bison and buffalo can be found in their horns. The horns of a bison are relatively shorter than that of a buffalo.
  • You will also notice that bison have a thick beard while buffaloes are completely beardless.
  • Bison have larger heads and shoulders than buffaloes.
  • There are two types of bison, namely American bison and European bison. Whereas, the two types of buffaloes include cape buffalo and water buffalo.
  • Bison have a thick coat of hair, protecting them in the icy conditions, whereas buffaloes have a thin hair coat.
  • Bison weigh around 2200 pounds and are more massive than cape buffaloes that weigh about 2000 pounds. Water buffaloes are the heaviest with their weights touching 2650 pounds.
  • You won't find a bison with an arched horn, whereas the horns of a buffalo are beautifully arched.
  • Bison shed their body hair in the hot months while buffaloes don’t.
  • Bison is a lot lengthier than buffaloes. They can reach up to 12.5 feet measured from head to rump. Whereas water buffaloes can only grow up to 9 nine long and cape buffaloes, have a length of around 11 feet.
  • Bison have a shorter tail at around 26 inches while the tail of a buffalo can reach 33 inches.
  • Bison have a shorter lifespan than water buffaloes. They can survive for 13 to 21 years. Cape buffaloes can live between 15 to 25 years, and water buffaloes have an average lifespan of 25 to 30 years.
  • Bison are not domesticated, whereas water buffaloes are domesticated in many parts of South Asia.
  • Bison are lesser in population than buffaloes. There are around 2 million bison and more than 150 million buffaloes in the world.

Comparison: What's The Difference Between a Buffalo and a Bison?

Bringing out the key differences between a bison and a buffalo in the form of a comparison table will clear out all the unnecessary confusion.



Found in North America and some parts of Europe

Found in South Asia and Africa


There lies a hump at the shoulder

There is no hump at the shoulder


The horns are small barely reaching 2.5 feet

The horns are large and can even cross 6 feet


They sport a very thick beard

They are completely beardless


Horns are not arched, they are rather straight

Horns are wonderfully arched


They eat grass, shrubs, and vegetation

They consume grass, herbs, and plants


Two types of bison include American bison and European bison

Two types of buffaloes include water buffalo and cape buffalo


Carries a massive head 

Has a relatively smaller head

Body hair

Have a thick layer of body hair that prevents from the harsh winters

Have a thinner coat of body hair


They are heavier than cape buffaloes but lighter than water buffaloes

Cape buffaloes are relatively lighter while water buffaloes are the heaviest 


They are lengthier than both types of buffaloes

They are shorter 

Body proportion

A large mass of pure muscle at the shoulders and huge head makes them look asymmetrical

Smaller shoulders with a smaller head make a well-proportioned body.


Sports a shorter tail

Has a longer tail


Not domesticated

Water buffaloes are domesticated, and Cape buffaloes are not domesticated

Shedding hair

They shed their body hair in summers

Thin body hair stays all-year long


They have a relatively shorter lifespan

Water buffaloes live much longer while cape buffaloes have a slightly longer lifespan than bison


They are lesser in the count

They are much more in count


They are utilized for meat, clothing, weapons, and shelter

They are utilized for milk, cattle, and meat

Comparison Chart

Bison vs. Buffalo Comparison Chart
Bison vs. Buffalo Comparison

Comparison Video

CAPE BUFFALO VS AMERICAN BISON - Which is more powerful?

The Final Words

Both bison and buffaloes belong to the same family and possess numerous similarities. That is what created all the confusion in the first place. However, anyone can tell the difference by looking closely at the animal. A huge head and massive shoulders with lots of body hair are featured by a bison. A buffalo, on the other hand, sports curved horns and less hairy appearance with a more proportionate head and shoulders to the whole body. 

Image Courtesy:

  • Photo by Eric Murray on Unsplash
  • Photo by Ray Rui on Unsplash
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