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Sheep (Ovis in Latin) are a genus of ruminants and occur in several wild species. The female sheep is called a ewe, the male a ram or buck – a castrated ram is called a wether – and the young are called lambs. Here are ten facts you might not have known about our beloved sheep!

Sheep differ from their closest relative – the goat…

They differ from their relatives, goats (which scientists are currently debating if they are indeed the closest relatives), by the absence of a beard, a coarser body build, the presence of tear sacs, and glands between their hooves. Although these characteristics apply to most species, some forms lack one or the other. Both male and female wild sheep are horned. Males (rams) can have impressively large horns; the Asian urial can have horns up to a meter long, and the largest wild species, argali (Ovis ammon), even larger. Females (ewes) have significantly smaller horns. The ram’s horns are usually robust and strongly twisted, while the ewes’ are more lightly curved backward. Sheep have 54 chromosomes, while goats have 60 chromosomes.

European sheep species died out 3,000 years ago…

Original species of wild sheep exist today in eastern Asia, as well as in North America and North Africa. In Europe, the European mouflon (see picture below) lives wild on Corsica and Sardinia, but there has been discussion whether this species was actually introduced by humans during the Stone Age as one of the very first domestic sheep. All other European sheep species died out about 3,000 years ago, the last ones in the Balkans.

Mostly found in mountainous regions…

Most sheep live in mountainous regions, but there are also populations – like a group of bighorn sheep – that occur in the warm deserts.

Largest horn determines dominance…

Sheep are typically active during the day, but sometimes rest during the hottest hours and also forage at night. Ewes live together with their young in groups, which sometimes unite into larger herdsMales are separated from females outside the breeding season and live alone or in their own groups. These groups have a hierarchy that is usually determined by horn size. If two males have horns of roughly equal size, they engage in battles to establish the pecking order.

The lamb can usually stand an hour after birth…

Species that live in North America typically give birth to only one lamb, but Asian species can have multiple lambs at once. Lambs normally learn to stand within an hour after birth to then follow their mother and the rest of the flock. It takes a few months before the female stops nursing, and young sheep become sexually mature in one to seven years.

Has an impressive memory…

Sheep have a very good memory. They can remember at least 50 individual sheep and humans for years to come. They do this by using a similar neural process and a part of the brain that humans also use for remembering. They can also solve problems and are considered to have roughly the same IQ as cattle or pigs.

Communicates through various sounds…

Like several other species, including humans, sheep make different sounds to communicate various emotions. Similarly, they also express emotions through facial expressions. Research has also shown that sheep can convey emotions through the positions of their ears.

Self-medicates when needed…

Sheep are not too different from us humans. Just like us, they tend to self-medicate when they have certain illnesses. They will eat specific plants when sick, which makes them feel better.

Can see a full 360 degrees…

Sheep have excellent peripheral vision. Their largerectangular pupils allow them to see almost 360 degrees. In fact, they can see behind them without even turning their heads!

Egyptians considered sheep to be sacred…

The Egyptians believed that sheep were sacred. They even mummified them when they died, just like humans.


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