Many types of sheep exist. They are found in almost all climates and environments from the snowy mountains to arid deserts. Such an existence required the sheep to adapt over time in order to survive. Today’s sheep display a multitude of colors, hair types and even internal adaptations that you can’t see.
Sheep have existed for well over 10,000 years. In that time, these animals have found their way across continents and oceans with the human race. In relocating, their bodies have adapted to perpetuate the species. Today there are more than 1,000 breeds of sheep around the world. Forty breeds live here in the U.S., according to the Sheep 101 website.
The adaptations are internal and external, differing with the sheep breed and its locations. Adaptations range from the Dall sheep’s white wool color, to camouflage the animal that lives in the snowy mountains of Alaska, to the kidney’s urine concentration system of the Merino sheep, to conserve water in the arid North African desert home of this breed.
The finest wool is found on sheep living in desert regions of the world, including the U.S. Sheep with the longest wool are found in the cold climates that get a large amount of rain such as Great Britain. The most coarse wool is found amongst sheep adapted to extreme cold and windy conditions. The adaptations are so profound amongst sheep breed you can discern the animal’s origin from the wool on its body. Sheep with longer wool are sheared often by their human keepers for clothing.
Both male and female sheep living in the wild would grow horns in order to protect themselves and the lambs from predators. Domesticated sheep exhibit horns less and less over time. Because of domestication, sheep today have smaller brains, because they do not need to fend for themselves in the wild. Also in domestication, the sheep no longer had to camouflage themselves for protection. Sheep with wool colors other than brown were allowed to survive to breeding age. Today there are white, black, gray and mixed coloring in domesticated sheep.
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