, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp 193-198

Some aspects of geophagia in Wyoming bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis)

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Geophagia has been commonly reported for bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) and other ungulates worldwide. The phenomenon is often attributed to the need to supplement animal diets with minerals available in the soil at mineral lick locations. Sodium is the mineral most frequently cited as being the specific component sought, although this has not been found universally. In this study area, bighorn sheep left normal summer-range to make bimonthly 26-km, 2,000-m-elevation round-trip migrations, the apparent purpose of which was to visit mineral licks on normal winter-range. Lick soil and normal summer-range soil were sampled for their available mineral content and summer-range forage was sampled for total mineral content, and comparisons were made to determine the specific components sought at the lick by bighorn sheep consuming soil. It was concluded that bighorn sheep were attracted to the lick by a desire for sodium but that geophagia also supplemented a diet deficient in the trace element selenium. Where sheep are denied access to licks, populations may be limited by mineral deficiency.

Communicated by H. Kierdorf