Clever boy! Sheep recognise faces. They self-medicate. They're clever, dammit...

Sheep are not so dumb after all. New research shows that they self-medicate when they are ill. They can also identify and remember faces, both human and ovine, distinguish between happy and depressed expressions, and tell one sheep's bleating from another.

Scientists have discovered that sick sheep can accurately self-medicate for stomach problems. When sheep were given food than made them unwell, they were able to select and eat the right cures for constipation and heartburn. "People learn to take aspirin for headaches and antacids for stomach aches... Is it also possible that herbivores write their own prescriptions?" ask the researchers.

They say that from prehistoric times, people have believed that animals self-medicate, but that until now it has not been clear whether sheep can spot medicinal compounds when ill.

In the research, published this week, lambs were given foods that led to mild ill health, and then given a choice of compounds known to ease the symptoms. The animals were able to accurately spot and eat the specific compound that would cure their ill. "This is the first demonstration of medicine preferences in animals," say the researchers from Utah State University.

Sheep have enjoyed an improvement in their public profile, thanks to Dolly the cloned sheep and Sean fromWallace and Gromit. Nevertheless they are widely viewed as stupid.

But according to neuroscientist Keith Kendrick, Gresham professor of physics at Cambridge University, this is not true. "We now have a fair amount of evidence that sheep are not dumb. In fact, they can be quite cunning in terms of getting in and out of things, and coming back and looking as if they never went out in the first place,"

Professor Kendrick and his team have been investigating the face and emotion recognition among sheep and will publish their findings later this year.

"It is a review of how sheep process faces and emotions. We have found that sheep can recognise both human faces and emotions, and emotional changes on sheep faces. They are also able to form mental images of faces. They can recognise at least 50 different faces, and remember them for a couple of years or more," he says. "They are quite sophisticated in their social environment. They know what a happy face looks like compared to an angry one."

Researchers at the French Behavioural Ecology Group have also found that ewes are able to recognise the individual sounds of their lambs, suggesting that baas, which appear to the human ear to be all the same, may be unique to each individual.

"Our results show that ewes and their lambs can recognise each other based solely on their calls," they say.

All of which raises the question why they allow themselves to be bossed around by one man and a dog.

FLYING SHEEP

From Monty Python's Flying Circus

(A tourist approaches a shepherd)

Tourist: Good afternoon.

Shepherd: Eh, 'tis that.

Tourist: Uh... those ARE sheep aren't they?

Shepherd: Yeh.

Tourist: Only, what are they doing up in the trees?

Shepherd: A fair question... It's my considered opinion that they're nestin'.

Tourist: Like birds?

Shepherd: Exactly. These sheep are laborin' under the misapprehension that they're birds... Witness their attempts to fly from tree to tree. Notice that they do not so much fly as ... plummet. [Baaa baaa ... flap flap flap ... whoosh ... thud]

Tourist: Yes, but why do they think they're birds?

Shepherd: Another fair question. One thing is for sure, the sheep is not a creature of the air. They have enormous difficulty in the comparatively simple act of perchin'.

[Baaa baaa ... flap flap flap ... whoosh ... thud]

Trouble is, sheep are very dim. Once they get an idea in their 'eads, there's no shiftin' it.

Tourist: But where did they get the idea?

Shepherd: From Harold. He's that most dangerous of creatures, a clever sheep ...

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn