An Ultimate Ungulate Fact SheetReturn to Artiodactyla

Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Artiodactyla
        Family: Bovidae
          Subfamily: Caprinae
            Genus: Ovis

Ovis ammon

      Argali sheep


Genus [Linnaeus, 1758].  
Citation: Syst. Nat., 10th ed., 1:70.
Type locality: Kazakhstan, Vostochno-Kazakhstansk. Obl., Altai Mtns, Bukhtarma; near Ust-Kamenogorsk.

General Characteristics

Body Length: 120-200 cm / 4-6.6 ft.
Shoulder Height: 90-120 cm / 3-4 ft.
Tail Length: 14 cm / 5.6 in.
Weight: 65-180 kg / 143-396 lb.

The general colouration of argalis is variable, ranging from a light buff to darker grey-brown, with white hairs being interspersed in some cases (especially in older individuals).  The underparts are whitish, and separated from the main body colour by a darker band which runs along the sides.   The face is noticeably lighter.  In addition, males have a whitish neck ruff, which encompasses most of the neck's surface, and a dorsal crest, both of which are more prominent in the winter coat.  Argalis have a whitish rump patch, although there is much variation between subspecies in terms of size and borders.  Adult males carry two enormous corkscrew-like horns, which can reach 190 cm / 6.3 feet when measured along the spiral.  Females also bear horns, although these are much smaller, rarely exceeding 30 cm / 1 foot in length.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 150-160 days.
Young per Birth: 1-2
Weaning: At 4 months.
Sexual Maturity: Females at 2 years, males by 5 years.
Life span: 10-13 years.

Just prior to parturition, females separate from the herd and retreat to an inaccessible spot to give birth.  The mother and her newborn will remain separate from the herd for several days, during which the lamb lies motionless while its mother takes brief forays to graze.

Ecology and Behavior

Reported population densities range from 1.0-1.2 animals per square kilometer.  Seaonal migrations have been reported for some populations (especially the males), while there is a general trend to live at higher elevations in the sumertime.  With relatively long legs, argalis are fast runners and may flee from predators, although refuge is often taken on steep mountain slopes.  The primary vocalizations are an alarm whistle and a warning hiss made by blowing air through the nostrils.  When competing, males rear up on their hind legs and, leaning forward, race towards their opponent, crashing horns in the process.

Family group: Herds segregated by sex (except for breeding season) with 2 to over 100 animals.
Diet: Grasses, herbs, sedges.
Main Predators: Wolf, snow leopard, leopard.


Hilly terrain near high mountains at elevations of 1,300-6,100 meters / 4,200-19,500 feet throughout central Asia.

Range Map (Compiled from Shackleton, 1997)

Conservation Status

The argali is a vulnerable species (IUCN, 2000).  The subspecies O. a. ammon, O. a. collium, O. a. hodgsonii, O. a. karelini, and O. a. polii are considered vulnerable, O. a. darwini and O. a. severtzovi endangered, and O. a. jubata and O. a. nigrimontana critically endangered.


The fantastic horns of males are highly prized by hunters which has put pressure on some wild populations, although a more serious threat is habitat loss from the grazing of domestic sheep.  Argali is a Mongolian name for this sheep.  Ovis (Latin) a sheep.  Ammon or Amen was an Egyptian deity, usually represented as a human form with the head of a ram.

Literature Cited

Nowak, R. M. [editor]. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Schaller, G. B.  1977.  Mountain Monarchs: wild sheep and goats of the Himalayas.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Shackleton, D. M. [Editor] and the IUCN/SSC Caprinae Specialist Group.  1997.  Wild Sheep and Goats and their Relatives.  Status Survey and Action Plan for Caprinae.   IUCN: Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Valdez, R.  1990.  Giant wild sheep or argali (Ovis ammon).  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker.  New York: McGraw-Hill.  Volume 5, pp. 550-553.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at

Return to Artiodactyla

© Brent Huffman,
All rights reserved.
Questions or comments? Click here