Hair: Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t!

(Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus in early summer hair exchange)

I sit and watch, with amusement, the removal of a hair piece and instillation of another. The older one is worn and needs replacing. The new piece is glued into place and a trim blends it all in. One would rarely know that it was not the real deal! I laugh and decide that hair is a worthy subject for a short essay.

Animals periodically get rid of, or acquire new hair pieces (i.e. coats). It’s a blessing to either keep one warm or allow one to cool-off. Primates (animals with thumbs – apes, monkeys, and such) are especially concerned with their hair. They spend many hours picking through and grooming a partner’s plumage. The result is hygienic. As warm weather critters, they need not be too concerned with seasonal changes in the weather.

But ungulates (hoofed beasts), go through the annual cycles of shedding and growing new winter coats. The Barren Ground Caribou (pictured), in late summer, grow white-tipped guard hairs that are hollow. These special hairs give buoyancy while swimming and act as guard hairs providing an insulating layer to conserve body heat and keep them exceptionally warm. Also, in winter, hair grows between the toes and around the rims of their hooves. This provides protection by keeping hoof pads from coming in contact with the frozen ground. Coat color will vary seasonally. In spring, a molt gets rid of the light beige, warm outer coat. But August finds them dark brown with white hair on their neck, chest, and belly. For the rut, bulls develop heavy white manes. Diet affects hair health. Good nutrition will give hair an attractive sheen.

No matter the species of mammal, hair is an essential commodity – both for utility purposes, and attractiveness. Healthy hair in males send signals that his offspring will probably be vigorous and stand a good chance for survival in a competitive environment.

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