Historian Dan Flores Reveals That Modern Day Bison Are “Dwarfs” Compared To Their Ancestors On ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’

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If modern day bison are “dwarfs,” I don’t even want to know how big their ancestors used to be. Historian and writer Dan Flores, who specializes in environmental and cultural studies of the American West, joined The Joe Rogan Experience last year to speak on a number of his areas of expertise.

One of those areas is the history of the American bison, and how they have thrived in the Northern Hemisphere (specifically what is now the United States of America) for thousands of years. In the modern day, we know that bison are the largest land animals in North America. But what if I told you that the 2,000 pound beasts used to be even larger?

As crazy as it seems, Dan Flores suggested that the bison that roam Yellowstone National Park today are “dwarf” versions of the their ancient ancestors:

“The modern bison is actually a dwarfed animal, compared to the bison of the Pleistocene, that succeeded those earlier, larger forms about 8,000 years ago and very likely became dwarfed because of anthropogenic selection. Human hunting pressure.

Only wolves and human are effective predators of bison, and what you get by becoming smaller is a quicker emergence as fertile. Bison that are smaller can have calves at an earlier age.”

The science behind his explanation makes sense. Just as a deer hunter in 2024 would look to kill a larger buck, hunters going back thousands of years ago would seek out only the biggest of the bison.

Because the smaller bison could produce more quickly, it really became a numbers game. And speaking of numbers, it’s estimated that tens of millions of bison were killed in the 1800s, which would lead most to believe that the species was almost driven to extinction.

However, bison are living proof of the phrase “strength in numbers.” The smaller bison continued to populate, and along with some conservation efforts by the United States government (shoutout to Teddy Roosevelt), they bounced back from their mass killings.

Flores suggested that bison being able to keep their population up, though the bison became smaller and smaller, was due to their ability to saturate their own population, safeguarding them from predators:

“They’re so numerous, they saturate the predator possibilities. Predators just can’t take enough of them to ever actually reduce their numbers. So what happens…native people have hunted modern bison for 8,000 years. That’s the longest economic life way in North American history.”

It’s wild to think about how long bison have been around, and how they’ve been able to keep their population strong, AND that they used to be even larger than the behemoths we now know. You can hear more from the conversation on The JRE below:

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock