Hello, you beautiful minds. Let’s take some brain candy, shall we? So put down your game controls for a brief yet splendid moment, and stuff your brain with tasty tidbits of information.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sheep vs. Goats: More to It than Just Wool

Sorry for the delay, I was away for three weeks. It has become quite clear to me that most people don’t know a thing about animals – animals besides dogs and cats, that is. Just listen to what people tell their children at the zoo. Lies. A zebra isn’t a striped horse and that antelope is a gerenuk, NOT an impala. But let’s start with something simple. What’s the difference between a sheep and a goat? I’ll give you a hint, wool is only the tip of the barnyard iceberg.

I’ll start with the similarities. Both sheep and goats are ruminants (herbivores that have a rumen, the first compartment of their stomach, and regurgitate their food for re-chewing), have roughly the same body shape and size, and have been domesticated. They also both tend to have horns (although not all breeds are horned), creepy looking pupils, and voices that sound like baaahhh or muuuugh or aaaahhhgh depending on their mood. But, did you know that not all sheep breeds have wool? I bet that just blew your mind! Also, some breeds of goats were developed for fiber production. Woah! It’s true. The so-called “hair sheep” breeds don’t have wool and are bred for meat or even milk production (although wool breeds are also bred for these reasons). “Hair” breeds such as the katahdin and Barbados blackbelly are often easier to raise because they don’t require shearing, which often costs more than the price of wool. These sheep are often mistaken for goats. On the goat-y side of the equation, breeds such as the angora and pygora are bred for their fiber production. They are covered with curly white hair (called mohair) which makes them appear very sheepish (forgive me for that pun). Confused yet? Of course not.

Hair Sheep                                           Angora Goat

The Differences:

1. Horns – There are subtle yet important differences between the horns of sheep and those of goats (when they are a horned breed, of course). Sheep have the classic “rams horns” – tightly curling horns that tend to wrap around in a Princess Leia fashion. Goat horns tend to curve more slightly and arch back, rather than to the sides. Some goat horns are somewhat spiraled, almost like those of an antelope.

2. Tails – Goats have naturally short tails, sheep have longer tails. The reason they both look similar, however, is that most sheep have their tails docked at a young age.

3. Beards – Some goats have beards, sheep do not.

4. Glands – Male goats have scent glands under their tails. This is one of the main reasons male goats smell so awful. Rams (male sheep) are less odorous and have glands near their eyes (as do many antelope) and sometimes on their feet.

5. Behavior – Behaviorally speaking, sheep and goats are as different as cats and dogs…according to me anyway. Goats are more outgoing and hilarious than sheep. Goats are more independent than sheep, while sheep have a strong flocking instinct. While feeding, goats are browsers while sheep are grazers. Goats eat vines, shrubs, twigs, and leaves while sheep stick to grass. While fighting, rams will charge at each other head first, while bucks (male goats) will rear and then butt heads.

And now we know the differences between sheep and goats. Hooray!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Actually, I AM From Around Here

I’m feeling patriotic at the moment, and there is no better way to celebrate the United States of America than by taking a look at the amazing animals that evolved here in the long, long ago. This is a fact. So let’s meet these all-American all-stars!


Horses (well, equines in general) evolved in North America. I AM SO HAPPY ABOUT THIS. Each time a ten year old girl wins a ribbon at her local Pony Club show, the terrorists lose and America wins. Horses have been in North America since the Eocene (with a brief absence of about 9,500 years after the Pleistocene extinction). They started out as little bitty things and then evolved to bigger things. Technically speaking, the genus equus (horses, asses, zebras, etc.) evolved during the Pliocene – so zebras are also American…as are donkeys. So horses are American heroes and we should acknowledge them as such


That’s right, camels are American. Like horses, they evolved in North America in the long, long ago times. Camels and llamas were more similar back then, and the two groups didn’t really branch off until the Pleistocene (they separated due to artistic differences but remained friends). Camels went across the Bering Land Bridge to Asia while llamas moved South America (although many camels and llamas remained in North America until the Pleistocene extinction). So the next time you see Lawrence of Arabia, remember that you are looking at Americans.


This one is not as much of a surprise. The wolf and the coyote both evolved in North America and spread throughout much of the world via aforementioned land bridge.  


These strange rainforest dwellers are now only found in Central and South America, and in Southeast Asia. However, they too evolved in North America. Tapirs migrated south during the Great American Interchange (when North and South America joined at Panama) about 3 million years ago. Up until recently (10,000 years ago) tapirs were common in North America. I think we should bring them back because they are super cute.

Oddly enough, neither bison nor deer evolved in North America. They came over from Eurasia. Bison in general haven’t fared very well. They were hunted almost to extinction in both North America and Europe. The North American bison, however, has made somewhat of a comeback, while the wisent (European bison) has remained extremely endangered.