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Why do bison run fast but walk slowly?

A pair of male and female bison with their heads down eating treats off the ground.
Jane Lindholm
Vermont Public
Bison eat treats at the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge in Forth Worth, Texas.

What do bison, moose, Gila monsters, parrots and snails have in common? Well….nothing, except they all appear in this episode! We’re rounding up some of the animal questions you’ve sent us lately. Why do bison walk slow but run fast? What’s the thing hanging down from the neck of a moose? Why do Gila monsters bite? How do parrots talk? Why do snails have slime? Answers from the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and One Earth Conservation.

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript

  • Bison walk slowly to conserve energy. But, when threatened by a predator, they can run as fast as 30 miles per hour! They can jump high too: 3 to 4 feet in the air. 
  • Moose have a long piece of hair-covered skin under their necks called the dewlap or the bell. Scientists aren’t totally sure what it’s for. It might allow moose to better distribute their smell or it might be used for heat regulation. 
  • Gila monsters are one of the few venomous lizards in the world! They will clamp down on their victim and not let go, while inserting venom into their prey through their teeth. Despite their fearsome reputation, Gila monsters tend to avoid humans and other large wildlife. 
  • Parrots learn to talk after they are born. They have a special auditory center in their brains that allow them to talk in complex ways. Parrots have their own language and dialects. Some have particular calls for their children and they use syntax, meaning they put their sounds in particular order. When parrots use human language they are using mimicking skills (not necessarily understanding human speech). They do this when they mimic sounds of other parrots too!
  • Snail slime is really just mucus. Snails use mucus in a few different ways. First, they make slime all over to keep their body moist. They also make a slime that comes out of their foot to help them move along the ground. This slime is like riding a one-way wave for the snails. When they want to stop moving, the slime helps them stick to a surface–they can even hang upside down!
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.

But Why is a project of Vermont Public.

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