You Say Buffalo, I Say Bison. | Black Hills Travel Blog
  • You Say Buffalo, I Say Bison.

Buffalo in the Badlands

After my last post, I've had a couple questions about the difference between buffalo and bison. It's a fair question, since you'll see (and hear) it both ways in South Dakota.

The easy answer? There is no difference. Or, if there is, it's a bit like the difference between a water fountain and a bubbler. Of course, in that case, pretty much only Wisconsin-folk use 'bubbler.' When it comes to the big furry animals, you'll get it both ways on a pretty even scale.

Biologists, ranchers, and a few others will say 'bison.' That's the correct name for the hairy beast pictured above, at least from a scientific standpoint. The American bison, or Bison bison if you want to get taxonomic, is the official name for them.

Even though they're not really buffalo at all, you'll still hear a lot of people using that phrase (the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup, for instance), or using the two names interchangeably. In fact, bison are not buffalo. Biologists say they're distant relatives at best, with true buffalo inhabiting only Asia and Africa.

But people have been using both terms for so long that it's simply become part of the language. The only people who will correct you are stickler biologists. With everyone else, you're probably safe.

About the Author

Dustin is a fifth-generation South Dakotan, grew up exploring the forested gulches of the Black Hills. While studying at Oxford University, Dustin discovered the amazing combination of student discounts and the European rail system, and set off to see the continent. Eleven countries, five trains, a Greek fishing boat and several pubs later, Dustin realized a deep affinity for travel. Although he’s journeyed across three continents since then, the Black Hills remain one of his favorite places to explore. Now a member of the Western Writers of America, Dustin has penned several travel guides on the Black Hills, Badlands, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming for publishers including Fodor’s and Globe Pequot.

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