Humans aren’t the only creatures on this planet with luscious, eye-catching locks. Even animals use their hair (or feathers) to show off or attract the attention of potential mates (or jealous spectators)—I mean, look at the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz.
Okay, we know—he’s a fictional character and not actually a real lion at all. But we saw an opportunity to use this picture, and we took it.
Anyway, as we were saying, plenty of Earth’s other inhabitants sport a variety of envious hairstyles too. These creatures aren’t looking great just for the hell of it, though. Like humans, the protective covering of an animal serves an actual purpose—aside from giving others something nice to look at.
First and foremost, why do we have hair on our head? Well, like we just mentioned, it’s not just for looks. Our hair functions as a means of heat insulation. It’s also there to cool us down. When sweat evaporates from your hair, it acts as a natural cooling mechanism. Hair also serves as a protective shield from the sun.
Animal hair functions in practically all the same ways as our own human hair. Depending on the animal, though, hair/feathers can also have plenty of other features and uses. We rounded up a list of some interesting traits that help define the coats of a few of our fellow inhabitants of Earth.
What color is a polar bear? If you said white, you’d surprisingly be wrong. Polar bears actually have transparent hair. Yeah, it’s entirely colorless. There are spaces within each singular hair that are filled with air, scattering all different types of colors and light. The result (to the human eye) is the white hue that we’re used to associating with the creature. This fascinating feature helps them survive by allowing them to blend in and hide amongst the snowy, arctic climate that they inhabit.
When you’re asked to think of a bird with astonishing feathers, peacocks (also known as peafowl) may be one of the first to come to mind—and for a very good reason; they have some of the most magnificent and grandiose tails in the animal kingdom. Their tails are so massive, in fact, it’s easy to forget that it’s actually just a tail and not some elaborate backdrop that somehow follows them everywhere. The term “peacock” is specific to the male, as are the colorful feathers that they are known for. So, sorry ladies, lady peafowls (Peahens) got nothing on their male counterparts. The male peafowl’s feathers, similarly to the polar bear, aren’t necessarily colored in the ways that your eyes perceive them. They reflect light, showing off a wide range of colors for attracting mates.
Duck feathers might not intrigue you as much as other birds. Some avian creatures are known for their lively colored feathers, but many ducks are simple shades of brown and white. These feathers, however, carry a very important purpose. Ducks have a special gland towards their tail. This gland produces a specific oil. The duck rubs this oil on their feathers, creating a waterproof protection for itself. This allows the bird to do all the things it wants to in water, without worrying about soggy feathers!
Chinchilla’s are some of the softest creatures on Earth. They are an absolute joy to pet, as their soft coat feels like bowl of buttery mashed potatoes. Alright, that was probably a bad analogy—but what’s as soft as a bowl of buttery mashed potatoes? Probably a Chinchilla! So maybe it wasn’t that horrible of an analogy. Anyway, their soft coat does raise an issue: the chinchilla cannot get wet. The reason for a chinchilla’s abnormally soft fur is due to density. There’s an insane amount of hair follicles on a chinchilla, which contributes to the dense and thick nature of its coat. When the coat gets wet, the fur will clump up and mat and create a very unhealthy living situation for the creature. As an alternative, chinchilla’s love to bathe in sand. They burrow in it, play in it, and the tiny sand crystals clean out the dense fur.
When you think of hair, you might not think of tarantulas for very obvious reasons. Oddly enough, hair is a very important factor for them. Tarantula’s have hairs on their body, which are known as urticating hairs. These hairs aren’t for insulation or waterproofing, though. These hairs are the creatures primary source of defending against predators. Urticating hairs (which are not limited to only tarantulas!) are small, pointy hairs that easily fall off the body when touched. These hairs can easily get stuck in the skin of attacking predators, even humans, and create a massive sense of discomfort. The spot it hits becomes irritated and sore. Normally, this is enough to tell the predator to back off.
Next time you see an animal with luscious hair, don’t just take it for face value. Appreciate the technical purposes, as well!