State Museum of Natural History
Biodiversity Data Centre

Ovis musimon Linnaeus, 1758

  • Ovis ammon (Linnaeus, 1758)
Vernacular Name
Argali, Wild Sheep
Conservation status
Value of species
Game (hunting) species
There is near unanimity of opinion that Ovis ammon is the appropriate Latin binomial for all Argalis. Prior to 1998, some authorities considered the Severtzov Sheep of Uzbekistan to be Urial, but following Bunch et al. (1998), it has generally been included as an Argali. One exception is Mitchell and Frisina (2007), who follow some earlier taxonomists in recognizing a separate species O. polii, under which they put a few additional subspecies (see below on subspecific taxonomy). Argali live over a vast geographic range, but are separated into more-or-less disjunct populations, some of which are morphologically identifiable. How much (if any) of the taxon’s disjunct distribution is natural and how much the result of anthropogenic influence remains open to date. Similarly, how (and even whether) various populations should be classified subspecifically remains contentious. Wilson and Reeder (2005) and Fedosenko and Blank (2005) recognize nine subspecies: O. a. ammon, O. a. collium, O. a. comosa (= jubata), O. a. darwini, O. a. hodgsoni, O. a. karelini, O. a. nigrimontana, O. a. polii, and O. a. severtzovi. Geist (1991) recognized all of these except collium and severtzovi (which at the time was still considered a urial); he also considered that jubata had precedence over comosa. Shackleton and Lovari (1997) followed Geist’s (1991) classification except for adding collium as a valid subspecies. Within China, some authors have recognized additional subspecies. Wang (2002) recognized O. a. littledalei, adametzi, and sairensis (all within the range occupied by karelini or collium by the above authorities), and dalailamae (within the range occupied by hodgsoni, above) in addition to ammon and darwini (but did not recognize O. a. jubata). Yu (2001) recognized dalailamae as distinct from hodgsoni, but did not recognize the subdivisions within karelini or collium (and also did not recognize jubata). Mitchell and Frisina (2007) recognized ammon, darwini, jubata, dalailamae, and hodgsoni (as well as karelini, nigrimontana, and severtzovi under O. polii). Tserenbataa et al. (2004), based on mtDNA analysis, questioned the validity of separating O. a. ammon and darwini within Mongolian populations. There is uncertainty regarding the subspecific status of Argali in Gansu and adjacent Inner Mongolia; there are also differing opinions regarding the morphometric and/or geographic separation between polii and karelini. It may well be that future genetic work, similarly to Tserenbataa et al. (2004) and Wu et al. (2003) will suggest that clinal, rather than threshold variation characterizes many argali populations. Clearly, more research is required to clarify the taxonomy of the species. Because subspecific taxonomy remains unresolved, most subspecies that are recognized cross international borders, and the species occurs in many countries with differing management regimes, this account treats Ovis ammon by country (and, where appropriate, by population) rather than by subspecies. Subspecies found in Mongolia: Recent genetic studies (Tserenbataa 2003, Tserenbataa et al. 2004) suggest that all Argali in Mongolia represent a single subspecies. Two subspecies were formerly recognized, Altai Argali O. a. ammon and Gobi Argali or Mongolian Argali O. a. darwini. This species is found in northeastern Afghanistan, China (Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, possibly western Sichuan, Tibet, and Xinjiang), northern India (Ladakh, Sikkim, and Spiti), eastern Kazakhstan, eastern Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, northern Nepal (near the Chinese border), extreme northern Pakistan, Russia (Tuvan and Altai Republics in the Altai Mountains), eastern Uzbekistan, and eastern Tajikistan (Fedosenko and Blank 2005). There are no recent records of argali occurrence in Bhutan (Tschewang Wangchuck pers. comm., 2008). Argali inhabit mountains, steppe valleys and rocky outcrops (Reading et al., 1997; Schaller 1998; Amgalanbaatar and Reading, 2000; Harris 2007); they also occur in open desert habitats at the south-eastern end of its range (Reading et al., 2003; Tserenbataa et al., 2004; Reading et al., 2005). Argali are sensitive to deep snow, particularly if forage is limiting; often migrating from high mountain habitats during winter, but are present all year round at lower elevations in the Gobi desert (Reading et al., 2005). Most argali live on alpine grasslands between 3,000-5,500 m, often descending lower in winter (particularly if snow accumulates to more than a few cm). In some areas, (e.g., Gobi desert of southern Mongolia, Karaganda area of Kazakhstan), they live in lower elevation, semi-arid areas. They generally avoid forested areas (except in Kazakhstan, where they are presumed to occupy forests because of displacement from preferred habitats, Fedonsenko and Blank 2005). They prefer to occupy open areas with a gentle slope; females generally occupy steeper (cliff) terrain following lambing. Argali feed on grasses, sedges, and some herbs and lichens, and they regularly drink from open springs and rivers. Where sympatric with blue sheep they are more likely to occur in grass-dominated communities compared to the sedge-dominated communities occupied by blue sheep. Argali are gregarious and live in groups from 2-150 individuals. Wolves (Canis lupus) are their primary natural predator. Gestation is about 160 days, and females give birth to one offspring (twins are occasionally reported in the literature, but documentation is poor). Mothers separate from the herd to give birth and remain alone with her offspring for several days. Females are sexually mature at 2 years, while males may not sexually mature until 5 years. Maximum life-span is 10-13 years (Fedosenko and Blank 2005).
Book reference
  • Котенко Т.И., Ардамацкая Т.Б., Дубина Д.В. и др. Биоразнообразие Джарылгача: современное состояние и пути сохранения // Вісник зоології. – 2000. – Спец. випуск. – 240 с.

Taxonomic branch