Dall sheep, Dall's sheep, Stone sheep, Stone's sheep
The Thinhorn sheep is a sheep from North America of medium size, having a stocky body and deeply ridged, light brown horns. Males and females are easily distinguished: males have large, long, sharp curly horns, which will grow as long as a meter. The female, in contrast, has small, slender horns with gentle curves. Two subspecies of Thinhorn sheep are recognized: Stone’s sheep and Dall’s sheep, which have different colors. Dall’s sheep are creamy white, whereas Stone’s sheep are black or gray and have a black tail.
Thinhorn sheep inhabit northwest Canada, including Yukon, the Northwest Territories and British Colombia, as well as Alaska in the United States. They live in mountainous regions with dry, hostile and rugged areas. In spring, they occupy grassy mountainsides, moving in summer up to high alpine pastures. In winter, they migrate to areas at lower elevations that have less snow.
Habits and lifestyle
Thinhorn sheep are diurnal and gregarious. Ewes live in a flock with other ewes, immature rams, lambs, and yearlings. Rarely, there are aggressive interactions between ewes, due to conflict over bedding or feeding sites. Older rams live groups of bachelors that do not interact with ewes except for during the mating season. Rams will establish a hierarchy where rank depends on horn size. The ranking is for access to females as well as for social order. Males occupy as many as six different home ranges during the year and females up to four, though some populations of thinhorn sheep are sedentary. When seasons change, the sheep move to areas that are more suitable. Females move to particular areas to lamb, generally in secluded areas of high elevation. Being able to navigate upland meadows as well as near-vertical cliffs provides Thinhorn sheep with an advantage when seeking safe areas for birthing and to escape from predators.
drift, drove, flock, fold, herd, mob, trip
Diet and nutrition
The diet of Thinhorn sheep is mainly grasses, shrubs and sedges, with the addition of lichens, willows and mosses in autumn when there is a short supply of other vegetation. ‘Mineral licks’, which are rich in essential minerals such as calcium, are also important in certain seasons.
Thinhorn sheep are polygynous, dominant males breeding with females most often. Late November to early December is the mating season, and births take place from mid-May to early June. After gestation of about 175 days, one lamb is born. Lambs are precocial and are able to travel with their mother only 24 hours after being born, and within days the two rejoin their group. Lambs are fully weaned after three to five months. Rams are sexually mature at 18 months of age but do not generally mate successfully until 5-7 years of age when they achieve adult size and social dominance. Females are sexually mature at 30 months, giving birth for the first time by the age of 3 or 4.
Thinhorn sheep are under threat of the trophy harvest (adult rams especially), hunting in reserves and parks, and hunting by native peoples. Other threats are high population density, low-quality forage and disease. Avalanches and accidental falls are the cause of some deaths. Human activities, such as mineral exploration and road building within the thinhorn sheep’s range, are further threats.
Canada has a population that is about 41,500 animals. Of this total, 27,000 are Dall’s sheep subspecies: with 19,000 sheep in the Yukon; 7,500 Dall’s sheep in the Northwest Territories and 500 Dall’s sheep in British Columbia. 14,500 Stone’s sheep subspecies: with 3,000 Stone’s sheep in the Yukon and 11,500 Stone’s sheep in British Columbia. The total U.S. population of Dall's sheep is estimated at 70,000 to 75,000 animals. Overall thinhorn sheep numbers are stable today and they are classified as least concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Fun facts for kids
- The subspecies of Thinhorn sheep called Dall or Dall’s sheep is named after William Healey Dall. He was a scientist who led surveys regarding the sheep in Alaska in the late 1800’s.
- Thinhorn sheep prefer areas with strong winds throughout the winter, as it’s easier to find patches of vegetation which are exposed from beneath the snow by the wind.
- As the horns of the Thinhorn sheep grow, bumpy rings form annually around their circumference, and the sheep’s age may be determined by the number of rings.
- Dall's sheep are covered in a white, woolly coat that gives protection against low temperatures.
- Rams will kick and slam into each other with their horns. To prevent injuries to the brain, they have several "cushions" of air in their heads, which absorb a kick’s impact.
- Thinhorn sheep may form nursery groups where one or two ewes watch over the lambs while the other mothers feed.