Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), seen on my morning walk in in Phoenix, Arizona. 

These sheep are actually denizens of the Phoenix Zoo, in Papago Park. Geologically, the park comprises a grouping of sandstone monadnocks - isolated hills of red rock that rise abruptly from the surrounding terrain. The zoo has built its bighorn enclosure on the side of the southernmost hill - visible from the park’s trails, and a pleasant surprise for the urban hiker. 


Here’s a room I’ve never posted about before – the Skull/Sheep room, where we keep the majority of our Ovis skulls and full skeletons.  The UMZM has an extensive collection of these special bovids, the majority belonging to bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), but we also have a few specimens of Dall sheep (Ovis dalli) and a few domestics (Ovis aries).  The huge curls on the trophy mount belong to Ovis ammon, the argali or mountain sheep, which is the largest of all wild sheep species and wanders the highlands of Asia. 

I think the main reason I’ve never posted photos of this room before is because the storage practices are so unintentionally terrible.  We do everything we can to ensure longevity of our specimens, however, the overcrowding has gotten obscene in that room.  It flooded a few years ago and you can see the blue boxes are still sagging from the damage!  Someday, hopefully sooner than later, we will be granted adequate space to spread out these skulls and discontinue the real-world Jenga game we’re forced to play in there every day.  Until then, these literally are the skeletons in our closet.  

Ovis dalli
©Laura Quick

The Dall sheep (originally Dall’s sheep), is a species of sheep native to northwestern North America.

The sheep inhabit the mountain ranges of Alaska and Western Canada. Dall sheep are found in relatively dry country and try to stay in a special combination of open alpine ridges, meadows, and steep slopes with extremely rugged ground in the immediate vicinity, to allow escape from predators that cannot travel quickly through such terrain.

Male Dall sheep have thick curling horns. The females have shorter, slender, slightly curved horns. Males live in bands which seldom associate with female groups except during the mating season in late November and early December. Lambs are born in May.

During the summer when food is abundant, the sheep eat a wide variety of plants. The winter diet is more limited, and consists primarily of dry, frozen grass and sedge stems available when snow is blown off, lichen and moss. Many Dall sheep populations visit mineral licks during the spring, and travel many miles to eat the soil around the licks.

The primary predators of Dall Sheep are wolves, coyotes, black bears, and grizzly bears; golden eagles are predators of the young.

Fact Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dall_Sheep

Other posts you may like:

Big Horn Sheep and Coyote

Dall Sheep (ewe and lamb)

Punjab Urial


Ovis canadensis

One of the graduate students in our Vertebrate Osteology class is writing her term paper on determining age based off of skeletal remains, comparing human bones to those of the bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis).  While we were going through the collection looking for comparative specimens with known ages, we found this male that was a remarkable 9 years old when it died, making it our oldest known sheep in the collection.  Some of that severe aging is obvious in different parts of his skeleton, such as the large double abscesses in his molars and the subsequent infection of the mandible, the reduced gumline on the incisors, the arthritis in the vertebrae and sternum, and a weird growth on the ventral side of some of his vertebrae.  I always get kind of excited when we come across these unique pathologies, as it reminds me of the individuality of the wildlife around us.