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Wildlife Weekly: Hair vs. Fur? What's the difference?

Wildlife Weekly: Hair vs. Fur? What's the difference?

One of the features shared by nearly every mammal species on earth from antelopes to zebras (and even humans) is that their bodies are covered in hair.

Hair and fur have the same chemical make-up and are indistinguishable, both are made from keratin. As humans however, we don’t say I need a “fur cut,” we say I need a “haircut.”

Fur is also known by another name: pelange. Pelange refers to the hair on non-human, animals.


So just what are the differences?

Human hair does not stop growing, whereas an animal’s fur stops growing when it reaches a certain length. The color of human hair is consistent in color from root to tip, but animal fur varies from root to tip.

Different types of hair:

  • Guard hairs form the outer coat of the animal, shed water, and protect the inner hair and skin.
  • Wool is the hair of sheep, llamas, and some other ruminants.
  • Tactile hairs – also known as whiskers, are found on the head/shoulders or ears. They provide sensory functions.
  • Special purpose hairs found on tails and manes differ from the hairs found on the body of the animal.
  • Porcupine quills are even considered hairs, as they are made of keratin.
  • Even a pangolin's scales are made of keratin, and are considered "modified hairs."

For more than just warmth...

A mammal’s fur can serve many purposes in addition to insulation. In some species fur can be a source of camouflage. Small animals' coats generally match their environment, so they blend with the dirt.

Fur coloration can differentiate males from females, or as in the case of a skunk a way to warn predators.

Mammals are so reliant on their fur, they spend an enormous amount of time grooming and keeping their “coat” in good condition. Dull, dirty, or matted fur sends a “warning” signal to prospective mates. Similarly in humans, unkept hair can be a sign of poor health.

Depending on the time of year, the sanctuary animals at Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center sport anything from a full winter suit to a thin, lean summer one to withstand the heat. Visit Southwest Wildlife and see for yourself who’s sporting “bed head,” a cute coif, or luscious locks!

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