Reading Exercise: American Bison
The American bison or buffalo (Bison bison), is the largest mammal on the North American continent. This magnificent creature, which is a member of the the cow family Bovidae, was given its common name by early French explorers who called them "les boeufs," meaning oxen. Throughout the years, the name went through several changes from "buffle" to "buffelo" and finally to its present "buffalo." Bison is the correct scientific and common name, but buffalo is widely used and also accepted. Bison were given many names by native peoples, including "tatanka," "pezhekee," and "iinii," among many others.
Paleontologists have traced the ancestors of the American bison to southern Asia during the Pliocene Epoch, some 400,000 years ago. The ancient bison was much larger than the present-day animal and ranged throughout the northern hemisphere. The fossil record shows that over time bison went through many evolutionary changes. One prehistoric bison, Bison latiforns, had horns measuring nine feet from tip to tip. Bison occidentalis came about in the late Pleistocene Epoch and is a direct ancestor of modern bison.
Bison initially made their way to America by crossing the ancient land bridge that once connected Asia with North America. During the ensuing centuries, bison moved south and east, at one time ranging from Mexico to southern New England. The greatest concentration was found on the Great Plains where an estimated 60 million bison once roamed.