OMIA 000985-9940 : Teat/nipple number in Ovis aries

In other species: cattle , pig , goat

Possibly relevant human trait(s) and/or gene(s) (MIM number): 163700

Mendelian trait/disorder: no

Mode of inheritance: Multifactorial

Considered a defect: no

Key variant known: no

Cross-species summary: Also known as Supernumerary teats, multi-nippled, polymastia and hyperthelia

History: Alexander Graeme Bell (1898, 1904, 1912, 1923), of telephone fame, developed by selection a strain of sheep in which most ewes had two to four additional teats. After the death of Bell and his wife, a ram and some ewes from his flock were obtained by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station. In 1941, the flock was transferred to the United States Morgan Horse Farm, Middlebury, Vermont. The results of Bell and his wife were summarised by Castle (1924). All available data from the Bells and from the subsequent research in New Hampshire and Vermont were summarised by Phillips et al. (1946), who reported estimates of the heritability of teat number ranging from 14% to 26%, consistent with the substantial response to selection achieved by the Bells. Phillips et al. (1946) concluded: "The results . . . indicate that the incidence of the multinipple trait in sheep can be readily affected by selection of sires and dams. There is little indication, however, that this trait has practical value in sheep husbandry, either by association with high fertility or increased milk production. In most flocks this character can safely be disregarded in selection but if the incidence of multinippled individuals becomes high enough to be objectionable it should be possible to bring it under control 'rather quickly by the use of rams with only two rudimentary nipples."

A more recent review of Bell's considerable contributions to science is provided by Stansfield (2005). Among many other things, Bell was very interested in the inheritance of deafness (both his mother and his wife were deaf), which led him to write two papers concerning deaf white cats (see OMIA 000259-9685). As it turns out, in these papers deaf white cats are mentioned only in passing; in both reports, Bell is primarily concerned with deafness and skin colour in humans.


Note: the references are listed in reverse chronological order (from the most recent year to the earliest year), and alphabetically by first author within a year.
2017 Peng, W.F., Xu, S.S., Ren, X., Lv, F.H., Xie, X.L., Zhao, Y.X., Zhang, M., Shen, Z.Q., Ren, Y.L., Gao, L., Shen, M., Kantanen, J., Li, M.H. :
A genome-wide association study reveals candidate genes for the supernumerary nipple phenotype in sheep (Ovis aries). Anim Genet 48:570-579, 2017. Pubmed reference: 28703336. DOI: 10.1111/age.12575.
2005 Stansfield, W.D. :
The Bell family legacies. J Hered 96:1-3, 2005. Pubmed reference: 15618310. DOI: 10.1093/jhered/esi007.
1988 Davies, D.A.R. :
Breeding sheep with 4 teats in a flock in Devon, England. Journal of Agricultural Science in Finland 60:620-621 , 1988.
1985 Kyle, B., Hanrahan, J. P. :
Supernumerary teats in sheep. Animal production. Report from Grange/Dunsinea, Moorepark and Western Research centres. Research report 1985. :12-13, 1985.
1982 Oppong, E.N., Gumedze, J.S. :
Supernumerary teats in Ghanaian livestock. I. Sheep and goats. Beitr Trop Landwirtsch Veterinarmed 20:63-7, 1982. Pubmed reference: 7092787.
1973 Yadrichev, V. I., Mosyagina, O. A., Bobarykin, N. D. :
Vzaimosvyaz' mezhdu mnogososkovost'yu i produktivnymi kachestvami matok romanovskoi porody [The relationship between teat number and production traits in Romanov ewes]. Trudy Kostromskogo Sel'skokhozyaistvennogo Instituta "Karavaevo" 43:75-78, 1973.
1970 Poonacha, K.B., Prabhu, S.S. :
Variation in multiple nipples in some breeds and crosses of Indian sheep. Indian Journal of Animal Sciences 40:650-660, 1970.
1958 Terrill, C.E. :
50 years of progress in sheep breeding. Journal of Animal Science 17:944-959 , 1958.
1946 Phillips, R.W., Schott, R.G., Spencer, D.A. :
The multinipple trait in sheep. J Hered 37:19-26, 1946. Pubmed reference: 21015949.
1945 Phillips, R.W., Schott, R.G., Spencer, D.A. :
The genetics, physiology, and economic importance of the multinipple trait in sheep. US Department of Agriculture Technical Bulletin 1909:1-16, 1945.
Vainikainen, V. :
On the heritability of supernumerary nipples in Finnish home-bred sheep. Maataloustieteellinen Aikakauskirja 17:11-18, 1945.
1934 Miller, H.G. :
Four-Nippled Sheep. Scottish Journal of Agriculture 17:79-85, 1934.
1933 Ritzman, E.T. :
The Multinipple Trait in Sheep and its Inheritance. New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station Technical Bulletin 53:32 pp, 1933.
1932 Popova, E.T., Kardymovich, E.I. :
[Polymastia, its Manifestation, Inheritance and Association with Fertility and Milk Yield.] Genetics of Sheep :63-91, 1932.
1931 Wassin, B. :
Linkage studies in sheep Journal of Heredity 22:9-13, 1931.
1925 Roberts, J.A.F., Crew, F.A.E. :
The genetics of the sheep Bibliographia Genetica 2:263-286, 1925.
1924 Castle, W.E. :
The genetics of multi-nippled sheep - An analysis of the sheep-breeding experiments of Dr. and Mrs Alexander Graham Bell at Beinn Bhreagh, NS Journal of Heredity 15:75-85, 1924.
1923 Bell, A.G., Bell, M.G. :
Saving the six-nippled breed: Mr. Bell's Last Contribution to Science, with An Introduction by Mrs. Bell Journal of Heredity 14:99-111, 1923.
1912 Bell, A.G. :
Sheep-breeding experiments on Beinn Bhreagh. Science 36:378-84, 1912. Pubmed reference: 17793216. DOI: 10.1126/science.36.925.378.
1904 Bell, A.G. :
The multi-nippled sheep of Beinn Bhreagh. Science 19:767-8, 1904. Pubmed reference: 17818460. DOI: 10.1126/science.19.489.767-b.
Bell, A.G. :
The multi-nippled sheep of Beinn Bhreagh. Science 19:963-4, 1904. Pubmed reference: 17753682. DOI: 10.1126/science.19.495.963.
1898 Bell, A.G. :
On the development by selection of supernumerary mammae in sheep Science 9:6337-6339, 1898.

Edit History

  • Created by Frank Nicholas on 06 Sep 2005
  • Changed by Frank Nicholas on 12 Dec 2012
  • Changed by Frank Nicholas on 13 Dec 2012