I have noticed we have gathered the attention of several biologists. I think that is great. I have an interesting theory to throw out to them and to the rest of those reading the forum who are sheep nuts.
Jack Wilson-the glacier pilot, who ran a liquor/Office Supply store in Glennallen- who was the pilot on the Swank world record ram, held a belief that the biggest sheep in the South Wrangells and even some in the Chugach Mountains were a sub-species of Dall Sheep.
He called them "longhorns". Jack said that they inhabited higher more dangerous areas for most of the year. They would stay near snowline most of the year with the exception of the rut and would graze on the rich grasses and wild plants that grew near permanent snowline. "Longhorns" were larger in size and had longer legs and a longer more gracile shape.
Jack said that Frank C. Hibben, the Anthropologist and Zoologist from the University of New Mexico, who took measurements on his "Longhorn" believed that the differences in their shape and that they often had a difference in the back of their horns.
Jack Wilson died two years ago. He was a wealth of knowledge on sheep hunting. He explained to me that if he was guiding for one of the truly longhorn sheep that he would hunt in different areas and it was an all or nothing proposition. He felt that less than 10-15 had even been taken but that the very biggest sheep that he saw and he saw others as big or bigger than the Swank ram in his years of flying were this sub-type.
F.C. Hibben who received a M.S. in Biology before earning a PHD in Anthropology was a world class hunter and also was a spy in Africa.
Hibben never published anything on his ideas.
These are more idle thoughts than real document theories but they are interesting to think about. Many biologists have talked about the requirements to build a "super-ram". I thought that other Sheep nuts might find this theory interesting even if it might be partially an wilderness myth(alternative to Urban Legend).
I can unequivocally say that both of these gentlemen lacked an understanding of the biological species concept. This is not to throw stones... just a statement of fact. Subspecies have a degree of genetic isolation that allows them to diverge in a certain way from the central tendencies of the parental species. There are many mechanisms that allow isolation (temporal, behavioural, geospatial, anatomical, etc.), but individuals cannot become isolated (and form subspecies) when they're widely dispersed and primarily interbreed with the females from the parental species.
Whether there is any truth there or not, I like it. It takes something special to grow those truly big rams and for sheep people there is no better way to spend some time around the camp fire or in the gun room than BSing about what it takes to make an eye popping ram (libation of choice in hand of course). Thanks for the post Thomas.
There are definately some genetics influence taking place in the rare instances when rams or any other critters grow extraordinarily. I honestly believe it is a throw back from their species. The best documented case of this happening is in a species of elephant. It has been documented that the shape of the skull on a living elephant is a definate throw back to an extinct species that once roamed in huge numbers. You can see it in humans as well, if you look close enough. We have all seen the sloped forehead, the whopped jaw, the beady eyes, etc. These are throw back traits. We recognize them most in humans, because that is what we see most often. It takes a lot of study to recognize the traits in the animal kingdom. Those old time guides knew more about the species of the animals they hunted (studied) than all the public school reared biologist can fathom. Their imaginations are limited by science and their science all came out of the books they read. There is way more unwritten science than that, that is written. I believe the guides had it right, mostly in that the "long horns" were/are special and genetically different than their breathern. Throw backs happen, but are not common, even if the species is not geographically isolated.
It would be easy enough to check using DNA. They sort fish stocks and subspecies all the time now, so why not sheep? Of course the big debate is always, just what in the heck a subspecies anyway? If the sheep you propose exist, they'd have to be breeding separately from the other sheep rather than mingling. That's going to be the hard part to prove.
Whether or not you realize it, you're arguing that the elephants evolved from a common ancestor, and share common characteristics. In fact, elephants, mammoths, mastodons, and many less commonly known ancestors of elephants are all in the same family, Elephantidae. That, of course, means they share certain genetic, anatomical, physiological, morphological, and even behavioral characteristics. Nobody has questioned the biological facts that you presented.
If you're suggesting that "individual" sheep have experienced similar genetic mutations that resulted in similar appearances (e.g. long horns), then that wouldn't qualify them as a subspecies (with due acknowledgement of BrownBear's point). None of these ideas negate Chisana's point about the campfire and libation(s), either. Good times,
Wilson was the one who came up with the moniker "longhorns".
However, Hibben was the individual who took measurements on his sheep.
(178bc 43 1/2 X43 + 15 inch bases)
It was one of the largest dalls ever taken. It was taken up in the upper elements of a high altitude ridge. I believe Hibben noted that the measurements were quite different than most thinhorn sheep.
You need to realize that Hibben took sheep all over the world. Hibben concurred with Wilson that "longhorns" had many similarities with argali.
They took a good bit more killing than normal dalls weighed maybe +100 lbs than a similar size dall rams.
Wilson acknowledged that he had seen maybe 7-10 of these longhorn rams and a similar small number of ewes that lived in that environment. "longhorn" were again to be seen in the high elevations right near the permanent snowline.
According to Valerius Geist's theory of glaciation, Dall sheep moving up into marginal environments that eat the nutrient rich grasses near the snowline tend to be bigger than those who live in the more traditional sheep habitats. These sheep spent most of their life right at the margin between the snowzone and grasses and plants there. Wilson went on to say that the Swank Ram lived in that environment and had more "longhorn" characteristics than many of the big trophy rams that he had guided clients too and seen.
Hibben did have a MS. in biology and understood elements of what makes a species. He felt that the long horns were a genetic sub-species because the sheep did seem to be separate from the other dall sheep and were different in many different ways than the regular dalls.
Wilson did note that he believed that the "long horns" could interbreed with regular dalls but he felt that they lived in a different environment and were adapting to the different environment with changes in their body morphology.
I have also heard that these Dall Longhorns had bony tubular structures on the back of their horns that gave them bigger horns.
Again, when I talked to Jack Wilson about this he was in his eighties. However, it was musings that I found fascinating.
That is very close to what I am suggesting. I don't believe the "long horns" are a seperate sub-species. I suggest they do have the genes of their long gone ancestors and yes even those of sub-species that have been extinct for eons. And, once in a while that gene characteristic manafests in their makeup. Thus a throwback is born, something akin to what once was. Again, it is obvious to me as I see it in humans on rare occasions and it has been fully documented to happen in a living elephant. The elephant in question is extraordinarily large and has a large, pronounced forehead and fossil remains of an extinct sub-species have been found that represent the same/identical characteristic. I also think during the ice age times, sheep were much larger, as were all the mammals in the extreme northern lattitudes. Take for instance the several hundred pound Beavers, that were in fact as large as a new age Black Bear. To me it is entirely feasible to expect throwbacks to any lineage, whether it is fish, mammal or insect.
Originally Posted by Cazador
Dog breeders have it happen quite regularly.
Fun Stuff to Ponder
Could the "longhorn" theory be something similar to what was known as the Audubon bighorn sheep sub-species that was found in the Montana Missouri Breaks during the Lewis and Clark times? Supposedly these sheep were similar to present day bighorns, but were also larger. It is said the last of these was killed in the rugged breaks south of Glasgow, MT in 1916. I spent a summer researching with a biologist in MT who found a skull plate with the horn cores that was believed to be from an Audubon. The horn cores alone were nearly the same circumference as many of the present day bighorns' bases. These sheep were somewhat isolated to the Missouri and Yellowstone River Breaks, but I'm sure they could have interbred with other sheep from areas as the present day Sun River herd. Makes you wonder if a similar situation could have occured with dalls. After hunting even the edge of some of the Chugach glacier country this year, I can only imagine some of the rams that might lurk in places no person could ever get to.