Early American settlers called bison “bufello” due to the similar appearance between the two animals, and the name "buffalo" stuck for the American variety. But it's wrong.
The American bison (Bison bison) lives only in North America, while the two main buffalo species reside in Africa and Asia. A small population of bison relatives called the European bison (Bison bonasus) lives in isolated parts of Poland.
Like buffalo, bison belong to the Bovidae family, which includes more than 100 species of hoofed mammals, called ungulates — buffalo, bison, antelopes, gazelles, cattle, sheep and goats. Two main buffalo species exist: African cape buffalo and Asian water buffalo.
If you were to stand eye-to-eye with a buffalo species and a bison — and neither mowed you down — you’d notice stark physical differences. Unlike any buffalo species, the American bison sports a large shoulder hump and a massive head, which gives this symbol of the West its burly appearance.
African cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) graze along the savannahs and grasslands of southern and eastern Africa. As if wearing a colonial-wig, the male is equipped with a head shield from which its horns sprout.
When it comes to horns, the Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) would take home the crown hands down. The crescent-shaped horns atop its head have a tip-to-tip span of up to six feet. They aren’t just for show, as this marsh-mucking buffalo uses its horns to scoop up cool mud and throw the goop onto its back.