Believe it or not, that’s not buffalo meat you’re sinking your teeth into…it’s bison meat. If you thought those giant furry creatures roaming around Colorado were buffalo, you’re not alone, but you’re also wrong. For many years, a misconception has been floating around that these iconic American Plains animals are called buffalo, when in fact they’re bison, an entirely different beast.

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Bison and Denver - OutThere Colorado
Bison wander the plains of Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge outside of Denver, Colorado.

This misinformation was started many years ago, when early settlers that first encountered these animals made the comparison to an animal they recognized, the buffalo. Keep in mind that this was before the days when a quick Google image search could have proven otherwise. In reality, buffalo are only found in Asia and Africa, while bison are only found in North America (and oddly, in specific parts of Poland).

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Their similar appearance comes from the fact that they’re both part of the Bovidae family. But then again, lots of hooved animals are. Also included in this group are goats, sheep, antelopes, and domestic cattle.

Buffalo - OutThere Colorado
Buffalo have larger horns than Colorado bison and heads more similar to that of the typical cow.

By comparing the two different species side-by-side, you’ll notice a few obvious differences. First off, bison have huge heads. On the other hand, a buffalo’s head tends to resemble that of a cow. Secondly, American bison are recognizable for their very broad shoulders with seemingly tiny legs. Another big difference is the type of fur that covers each animal. You’ll notice that bison tend to appear wooly, while buffalo tend to have hair texture similar to the average cow. Bison also have much smaller horns.

Bison - OutThere Colorado
Bison have larger heads and shoulders than buffalo, but typically shorter horns.

So there you have it, the bison and the buffalo are quite different. That doesn’t keep people from making the same mistake over and over again though. Even as you’re driving around Colorado, you’ll notice official signs advertising “buffalo herd overlooks.” Hopefully they’ve got some powerful telescopes capable of seeing across the ocean.

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