Bison's 5 Senses
Like all living things, bison collect information about the world around them in order to make informed decisions. They collect this information using their 5 traditional senses which include sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Through these senses, bison are able to sense danger, grow their herd, and help learn more about the world around them. This article will explore the 5-traditional senses and how bison utilize them in their everyday life.
Although it may not seem like it, bison are incredibly nearsighted, meaning they can only see objects that are close to them. Additionally, because their eyes are fairly far apart, they have a fairly wide sight range and excellent peripheral vision. This does not mean, however, that a bison cannot see or sense when people or animals are nearby. We do not recommend testing their eyesight because what they lack in eyesight they make up in their other senses like sound and scent.
While their sight may not be a great way to communicate or see fellow bison, bison’s hearing is excellent and is used consistently for communication. If you’ve ever heard a bison, you may recognize the snorts or grunts they make at you or each other. These grunts and snorts are used as chemical cues for communicating during a normal day, or during reproduction. Even smaller calves recognize grunts and may even be able to recognize how different grunts sound from others. While roaring is heard more during the rutting (mating) season, roaring can be heard any time of the year. Roaring is typically used when bulls are competing against each other. Bison also use bellowing to communicate when bonding with females, intimidating males and responding to a bull or a moving vehicle. Sound and vocalization are used consistently between bison to bison and are one of their most important senses.
As previously noted, while bison’s sight may not be top-notch, their hearing is fantastic as well as their sense of smell! Perhaps the most important sense bison possess is smell, especially when it comes to mating. During the mating season, communication is done via pheromones and smells to find a mate. It’s noted that bison can smell almost up to 2 miles, which is another reason to be careful when near wild bison. This sense of smell can save them from threats, such as wolves, bears, or human activity. Smelling each other as well as dangers makes smell an extremely important sense for bison to rely on throughout their lives.
Although this may be surprising, bison are not particularly picky animals like you or I. Like some other hooved animals like cows or elk, bison have four stomachs to digest their food. The four-chambered digestive system allows bison to break down plant material that humans would not digest as easily to aid in their grazing and foraging habits. Bison graze on grass, hay, feed, and even apples or pumpkins we provide them at JJ Bison. Although we could not find any evidence of this in our research, our personal experience is that bison do not care if they’re eating a delicious apple, or some fresh grass - they just love to eat!
As many have noticed, bison are very large, wooley animals on a large majority of their body, so their sense of touch is a tad different than a human’s. At JJ Bison, we have and do rub our bison’s snouts, but we do not recommend this for wild bison, or in general as bison can be unpredictable. When their snouts are rubbed, they do react to this sometimes very gently, so they are feeling our hand. Their body, however, is covered in a thick coat to help withstand cold temperature, and often don’t even feel the cold until it’s under -30+ degrees. Even on the coldest of days in Yellowstone, you can rest assured bison are kept nice and warm in their fur coats. Bison are also known to bond with their calves by touching as calves keep very close to their mom’s for a bit of time. To take care of themselves, bison groom, themselves by licking, scratching, or rubbing against trees to dislodge bugs and keep their fur clean. Overall, these magnificent beasts do feel, although it may be a tad different than you or me.
Putting it all together
Like all forms of life, bison do communicate and rely on all 5 of their senses. While they may react differently than you or I to seeing an object far away, or smelling something a mile away, bison are always on guard and use those senses to stay safe or find a mate.
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