Water buffalo characteristics, habitat, feeding, reproduction

Philip Kelley

The water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is a placental mammal that belongs to the Bovidae family. In this species, both the male and the female have horns. These can measure up to 80 centimeters, being the widest within the bovidae group..

It has a robust body, measuring between 240 and 300 centimeters in length. In relation to the coat, it is scarce and has a coloration that varies from gray to black.

Water buffalo. Source: Basile Morin [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Regarding its distribution, it is native to the Indian subcontinent, China and the Southeast Asia area. However, it is currently found in Australia, Europe, North America, South America and in some African countries.

Research reveals that this species is an excellent natural controller of the uncontrolled growth of vegetation around wetlands. It also helps keep waterways clear by consuming aquatic plants that obstruct the normal flow of water..

However, the water buffalo could cause serious environmental damage by trampling vegetation and eating large volumes of grass. In this way, it alters the ecosystem, disturbing the nesting sites of some species and favoring the growth of weeds..

Article index

  • 1 Domestication and breeding
  • 2 Features
    • 2.1 Rumen
    • 2.2 Head
    • 2.3 Size
    • 2.4 Fur
  • 3 Taxonomy
  • 4 Habitat and distribution
    • 4.1 - Distribution
    • 4.2 - Habitat
  • 5 Food
    • 5.1 Special features
  • 6 Playback
    • 6.1 Mating
    • 6.2 The hatchlings
  • 7 Behavior
    • 7.1 Communication
  • 8 References 

Domestication and breeding

The Bubalus bubalis it was domesticated in India, around 5,000 years ago, and in China, 4,000 years ago. Taking into account the analysis of mitochondrial DNA, the experts point out that both groups were domesticated independently.

In this way, those of the Indian subcontinent are known as river buffalo and those of China are called swamp buffalo.

The water buffalo can be used to carry out work in flooded areas, such as rice fields. Its excellent mobility in muddy terrain is due to its large hooves and the enormous flexibility of the joints..

Thus, the "live tractor" as this species is usually called, constitutes an economic and efficient means to plow the land, to activate the seed mills and the machinery to extract water, as well as the sugar cane presses..

It is also used as a pack animal and, particularly in Pakistan and India, it is used as a transport of heavy cargo..

On the other hand, this species is raised to obtain by-products, such as skin, horns, meat and milk. The latter has a high content of proteins and fatty acids, which is why it is widely used in the dairy industry..



The stomach of ruminants is divided into four compartments: the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum and the abomasum. The rumen has direct communication with the esophagus and, in the water buffalo, it has significant differences in relation to the rest of the animals that carry out rumination.

In this sense, it has a much larger population of bacteria, especially cellulolytic bacteria, higher fungal zoospores, and lower protozoa. Also, in the upper rumen, it has ammonia nitrogen and a higher pH, compared to that of cattle..


The head of the Bubalus bubalis it is narrow and long and has small ears that usually hang down. Both sexes have horns, although the male's is thicker than the female's. The bases are wide and widely separated, unlike those of the American buffalo, which are almost in the forehead.

Said structures are ribbed and the cross section is triangular. This species has the horns with the widest extension, within the group of bovids.

The shape and length vary, according to each species. Thus they can measure between 40 and 80 centimeters long. In terms of appearance, they can be curly or sickle-like. Generally, they extend laterally from the skull, curving back.

However, in the Indian water buffalo, they curve in a semicircle, while in the Cambodian and Thai subspecies they extend more sideways, with a slight curvature at their tips..


The body of the Bubalus bubalis It is between 2.40 and 3 meters long, with a tail of 60 to 100 centimeters. The shoulder height ranges from 1.60 to 1.50 meters. In relation to body mass, the male can weigh up to 1,200 kilograms, while the female reaches 800 kilograms.

Between the subspecies there are differences, with regard to their dimensions. Thus, the river buffalo weighs 450 to 1000 kilograms, while the Asian or marsh buffalo is smaller, weighing 325 to 450 kilograms..


The water buffalo has a sparse coat. This one is long and ash gray to black in color. The underside of the legs is usually lighter, especially noticeable in the Asian subspecies. However, this may go unnoticed, as the animal is usually covered in mud..

The vast majority have one or two white crescents in the upper chest area or in the throat. Also, you may have small pale spots in your mouth, around your eyes, and on the sides of your mouth..


-Animal Kingdom.

-Subkingdom: Bilateria.

-Phylum: Chordate.

-Subfilum: Vertebrate.

-Superclass: Tetrapoda.

-Class: Mammal.

-Subclass: Theria.

-Infraclass: Eutheria.

-Order: Artiodactyla.

-Family: Bovidae.

-Subfamily: Bovinae.

-Genus: Bubalus.

-Species: Bubalus bubalis.           


-Bubalus bubalis kerabau.

-Bubalus bubalis arnee.

-Bubalus bubalis theerapati.

-Bubalus bubalis bubalis.

-Bubalus bubalis migona. 

-Bubalus bubalis fulvus.

Habitat and distribution

- Distribution

The water buffalo is native to Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and China. Currently, it is also distributed in Australia, Europe, North America, South America and some countries in Africa.


A high percentage of the world's water buffalo population, more than 95.8%, live in Asia. On this continent, this species is found in Afghanistan, Armenia, Bhutan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, China, Cambodia, East Timor, and the Republic of Georgia..

It also lives in India, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam..


The Bubalus bubalis it was probably introduced in Europe, from India. Among the countries where this mammal lives are Albania, Germany, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Italy and Spain.


The water buffalo were brought, between 1824 and 1849, from Kisar, Timor and other Indonesian islands to the Northern Territory. Later, in 1886, some buffalo were introduced to Darwin from India. Currently, it is located in Queensland and in the northern and western territories of Australia.

South America

This species arrived in 1895 in the Amazon River basin. Later, in 1970, small herds were imported to French Guiana, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela. Today, it is distributed in Argentina, Brazil, French Guiana, Venezuela, Peru and Suriname.

North America, Central America and the Caribbean

In 1978 the first herd of water buffalo was brought to the United States. In that country, the animal lives in Texas, Hawaii and Florida. In relation to the Caribbean and Central America, he lives in Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba and Panama.

- Habitat

The Bubalus bubalis It lives mainly in the tropics, in areas where bodies of water are available. During the hot season, he spends most of the day bathing in the water or rolling his body in the mud. This is done to cool off and lower your body temperature. Also, in this way, it avoids the bite of insects.

This species has the ability to eat plants under water, so wetlands are very important ecosystems for their food. However, this animal uses dry land to rest at night.

Preferred wet habitats range from meadows and riparian forests to swamps. In these, there is a mixture between rivers and streams, with tall grasses, trees and forests. In this way, the water buffalo has water to drink and refresh, a dense cover and abundant food..

Generally, the water buffalo is found at low elevations, but in Nepal, the swamp buffalo can be commonly found at elevations of 2,800 m. In relation to domestic animals, they are very widespread, being able to occupy agricultural communities and other areas within cities.


The water buffalo is a highly efficient herbivore, having a much broader diet and lower nutritional requirements than cattle. Within the diet are reeds (Arundo donax), water lily (Eichhornia crassipes) and several species of the Juncaceae family.

During the rainy season, most of the areas where this species lives are flooded. Due to this, the animal grazes submerged, raising its head above the water and carrying large quantities of plants with its mouth..

At this station, the Bubalus bubalis they camp overnight in forests and move at dawn to feed. At noon hours, the animal goes to the bodies of water to drink water and to immerse itself in these or to wallow in the mud. Thus, it refreshes your body and prevents the bite of insects.

Special features

Several studies indicate that the water buffalo, although it forages low-quality food, obtains a high energy yield from it. Thus, you can convert fibrous and not very nutritious foods into meat and milk.

Also, research shows that your body is efficient at digesting shrubs, forages, and fibrous by-products. This species has very particular physiological and anatomical characteristics, which allow it to make the most of the nutritional compounds in woody foods..

In relation to the anatomical aspects, the rumen has morphological aspects that differentiate it from other ruminants. Thus, the superficial epithelial layers are dense and the intercellular spaces between them are deep. In addition, there is a vascular network in the subepithelium.

Regarding the physiological characteristics, these include a higher consumption of food rations, which can add up to a daily total of 6 to 30 kg of dry matter. Also, it has a higher digestibility of protein and crude fiber.

On the other hand, the water buffalo has a high salivation rate, which allows a greater recycling of sulfur and nitrogen. All these factors mean that the water buffalo can take advantage of a great variety of fibrous foods, among which are legumes, fruits, grasses, leaves and bark of trees..


The first heat in the female can occur between 1.2 and 1.9 years. However, usually mating during the first heat is usually infertile. As for the male, they reach sexual maturity around 3 years, at which point they leave the group of females and join the single group..

The reproductive efficiency of the water buffalo shows a variation during the year. Females exhibit seasonal changes in heat, conception and parturition rates. One of the factors that influences this is heat stress, which affects its receptivity to the male..


In the winter time, adult males, who are part of the single group or who are alone, enter the female group. They show dominance through their movements and postures..

To determine oestrus (time of jealousy) in females, males smell their genitals and urine. Once they mate, they are expelled from the group.

The gestation period lasts between 281 and 334 days, although births generally occur between 300 and 320 days. This can be associated with the seasons. In this case, mating takes place after the rainy season and the young are born the following year, near the start of the new rainy season..

The babies

At each birth, the female usually has only one calf, but sometimes twins may be born. The newborn water buffalo weighs between 35 and 40 kilograms. Regarding its coloration, it can be reddish or yellow-brown.

The mother breastfeeds the young man for between six and nine months and is the only one in charge of parental care. After two years, the male leaves the maternal group, while the female can remain in it for life.


The Bubalus bubalis it is a social animal, which forms herds that vary from 10 to 20 buffalo, although exceptionally it could have up to 100 animals. Herds are made up of adult females, their young, and sub-adult females. Males form single groupings.

The range of homes occupied by the herds includes areas where herds can feed, rest, drink water and roll in the mud. Within the herd, there is a hierarchy of domination, being led by the oldest female.

The water buffalo is much more sensitive to heat than the vast majority of other bovidae. This is because they have fewer sweat glands. To refresh its body, the animal rolls its body on the mud, acquiring a thick layer of mud..

The cooling mechanism is given because the water contained in the mud evaporates more slowly than the water alone, which lengthens the cooling period. Also, it can be completely submerged in the water, leaving only the eyes and nostrils outside..


In general, the Bubalus bubalis communicates through posture. It does, however, growl, growl, and snort. In addition, this species has a developed sense of smell, which is used particularly in mating, when the male perceives the female's chemical signals..


  1. Wikipedia (2019). Water buffalo. Recovered from en.wikipedia.org.
  2. Roth, J. (2004). Bubalus bubalis. Animal Diversity. Recovered from animaldiversity.org.
  3. CABI (2019). Bubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo). Invasive Species Compendium. Recovered from cabi.org.
  4. ITIS (2019). Bubalus bubalis. Recovered from itis.gov.
  5. Joel THeinena, Ganga Ram, Singhb (2001). A census and some management implications for wild buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) in Nepal. Recovered from sciencedirect.com/
  6. Encyclopaedia britannica (2019), Water buffalo. Recovered from brittanica.com.

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