The American Bison is the largest land animal in North America. It once roamed the continent in millions but by the 1800s, their numbers declined to less than a thousand.
The Bison specimen in Wild Planet stands in the glass case with other animals, including an Armadillo to the right of its right foreleg.
This Bison’s powerful body is 4 metres long and 2.8 metres tall. It’s covered with uneven short mid brown fur and has a ridge along the length of the spine. The prominent hump above the shoulders rises from the neck and decreases towards the rump. The four legs are short and hoofed and the tail hangs long with a tuft of hair at the end. The fur is much thicker around the neck and a furry mop sits over the forehead. There are brushes of long hair on the forelegs above the joint.
Hair in the goatee beard hangs from the chin and two black horns emerge from either side of the forehead, and curve out like two sides of a lyre to turn upwards and slightly inwards into points. Dark eyes are set below the horns and the nostrils are wide.
American Bison, like other animals in this part of the exhibition, are vertebrates, which means they have a backbone. Vertebrate mammals share similar features such as hair and milk glands.
On the Tree of Life, species that are closely related will share many ancestral characteristics or features, whereas more distantly-related species have had more time to evolve different characteristics since they last 'shared' an ancestor. The Tree therefore helps us to understand both the similarities and the differences among species.
Wild Planet also illustrates animal adaptations, that is the features or behaviours that animals have developed over time that help them survive in their habitat. In the case of the American Bison, it is well adapted for the extreme weather of the American plains - with its thick layered coat providing excellent insulation. Snow can even cover the animal's back without melting. The Bison can gallop at speeds of over 60 kilometres per hour and is a good swimmer.