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Hairs

Hair is a characteristic attribute of mammals. The primary purpose of the epidermal outgrowth is to provide insulation from the cold. Thus, animals inhabiting colder climes typically are covered in thicker masses of hair, often referred to as a coat or wool, than those native to warmer regions. Humans, who have little need for extra protection from the cold due to the development of clothing, are among the least hairy mammals. Indeed, humans have been intricately involved in increasing the hair growth of certain other animals in order to make them more productive contributors to the fur and textiles industries, further decreasing the necessity of human hair. Through selective breeding efforts, the output and quality of hair produced by sheep, goats, rabbits, and a wide array of other animals has been drastically improved for human purposes.

Alaskan Seal Hair - Fur seals, as their name implies, are highly valued for their pelts, which exhibit a dense, waterproof underfur that typically consists of more than 350,000 hairs per square inch. Several different species of fur seal have been classified, all of which are members of the family Otariidae, which is comprised of the eared seals. Most fur seal species inhabit the southern hemisphere, but the northern fur seal is the variety that migrates each year to the islands of Alaska.

Alpaca Natural Charcoal Wool - The coat of the alpaca is typically shaggy and lustrous, but varies significantly in color, sometimes appearing a light tan, yellow, or even white, while at other times exhibiting much darker hues of brown, charcoal gray, or black. When sheared for human use, the wool can also be readily dyed into an even greater array of colors. This fact, along with the material’s negligible weight, resistance to damage from the weather, and excellent insulating capabilities, ensures that alpaca wool finds frequent use in a variety of items, including coats, sleeping bags, and blankets.

Angora Goat Hair - Typically smaller than other types of goats and sheep, the Angora goat is often said to have a gentle disposition. It breeds in autumn and has a gestation period of approximately 149 days. Through selective breeding, the ruminant’s outer coat of coarse guard hairs has been almost completely eliminated, leaving behind only a soft, fleecy underfur that grows in long locks. These locks are usually sheared twice annually, producing about 10 pounds of fleece per year per animal.

Angora Rabbit Wool - Angora rabbits are sometimes said to have originated in the Ankara region of Turkey, but little evidence supports this claim. The rabbits may have only received their moniker because of the remarkable similarity between their hair and that of the Angora goat, which is also often alleged to have been initially developed through selective breeding in that region. The first Angora rabbit did not appear in England until the late 1700s, when they began being raised there in order that their luxurious wool could be spun into yarn for clothing solely worn by nobility.

Antelope Hair - Native to Africa and parts of Asia, antelopes exhibit a broad range of variations in appearance and behavior, more than 100 species having been classified. The even-toed ruminants may, for instance, range in size from shoulder heights of one to six feet, and their hollow horns can be short, long, straight, curved, ringed, or spiral. The pronghorn antelopes of North America, however, actually belong to the family Antilocapridae and are not considered true antelopes because each year they shed the outer sheath of their horns, unlike other antelope species.

Baby Caracul Hair - The Karakul, which some believe to be the oldest breed of domestic sheep, is of Asian origin and was first introduced to the United States in the early twentieth century. Karakul sheep are primarily raised in order that the pelts of the very young lambs, which are covered in soft, deep black curls, may be obtained. When these pelts come from lambs two weeks to two months old, they are typically referred to as caracul, while the skins of even younger sheep are called Persian lamb or broadtail.

Badger Hair - Badgers have been hunted by man for their pelts for many years, and their hair is utilized for a variety of products, but primarily for shaving brushes. It has not always been easy, however, for humans to catch the fast moving animals that can speedily disappear into their underground burrows and tunnels. Thus, to help solve this problem, the Germans developed a special breed of dog that would be able to expediently pursue badgers into tight spaces. Short, long-bodied, and energetic, these dogs came to be known as dachshunds, which is German for “badger dogs.

Bat Hair - Bats, which are members of the order Chiroptera, are the only mammals that are truly capable of flight. The wings of the intriguing animals vary greatly in size, wingspreads ranging from only a few inches to as many five feet. Those at the higher end of the size spectrum, such as the flying foxes of the Malay region, are frequently hunted as a source of food. Bats also differ in a number of other regards, such as fur type and habitat, there being approximately 900 species of them identified and classified into 200 genera.

Beaver Hair - Though beavers were once abundant in the Northern Hemisphere, extensive hunting of the animals for their fur and musk glands caused them to be eradicated from much of their range by the mid-1800s. The liquid exuded by the musk glands, called castoreum, was sought for medicinal use and perfumes, while the thick, lush fur was highly valued for hats and other apparel. Indeed, beaver was such a fundamental commodity in colonial America that their skins became a unit of measure, traders using them as a sort of money that could be used to purchase a certain number of other goods.

Camel Down - Camels are most widely recognized by the characteristic fat-storing humps they carry on their backs. These humps may occur in pairs or singly depending on species. The Arabian camel, also known as the dromedary, is a one-humped variety that has a lighter build and a shorter coat than the double-humped Bactrian camel. The dromedary can travel at greater speeds than its counterpart, but the Bactrian can typically withstand heavier weights.

Cashmere - Cashmere originally came to be known to the larger world through the beautiful handmade shawls produced in Kashmir, India beginning in the fifteenth century. The fiber utilized to create the shawls was originally known as pashm. However, as the garments became popular in Europe in the early 1800s, the goat hair began to be referred to as Kashmir in reference to its origin, which eventually evolved into the modern spelling of the word.

Cat Hair - The genetic variability of cats does not compare with that of dogs, which may be so different in some cases that it is hard to believe that the individuals represent the same animal. Indeed, most cat breeds are chiefly distinguished by differences in the texture and color of the fur, rather than by body type, size, or shape. The Persian and the Himalayan, for instance, are both long-haired breeds, but the Persian may exhibit a wide variety of colors, while the Himalayan is white or cream colored with the dark markings at the extremities that are typically associated with the short-haired Siamese cat.

Chinchilla Hair - In modern times, chinchillas are commonly kept as pets, although they are still popular in the fur industry as well. Virtually odorless, hardy, and unafflicted by fleas or other pests, these large-eared rodents may live for more than 20 years when properly cared for. They require little living space and may be safely kept in a small, clean cage, subsisting on food pellets, timothy hay, alfalfa, and water, though they also appreciate treats, such as dry oatmeal, apple slices, and sunflower seeds.

Chinese Gray Kid Hair - Goats that are not yet old enough to sexually reproduce are known as kids. These animals, which are usually less than a year in age, are often exploited for their hides, which are marketed as kid leather. Kid leather, which typically appears in black, gray, or white, is heavily utilized in the fabrication of items such as shoes and gloves. However, some kid leather does not actually derive from young goats, but rather from less valuable animals, such as rats.

Chipmunk Hair - The chipmunks that inhabit the eastern portion of the United States as well as southeastern Canada belong to the genus Tamias. The common variety is Tamias striatus, which is covered in reddish brown fur highlighted along the back and tail by multiple dark and light stripes. This species generally inhabits the understories of deciduous forests, making its home in underground burrows.

Civet Hair - The primary use of civets by humans has been in the perfume industry. All civets produce a yellowish, musky substance, which is stored in a pouch under the tail. In nature, the animals use the secretion, also known as civet, as a territorial marker, but it is collected for commercial purposes from those held in captivity. The greasy substance is then utilized as a fixative for perfumes.

Cow Hair - In some parts of the world, such as Africa and Asia, domestic cattle appear very similar to the animals that inhabited those areas thousands of years ago. However, in Europe and the Americas, a number of relatively new breeds have been developed through controlled breeding efforts. Most of the breeds have derived from the species Bos taurus and Bos indicus, but vary significantly from the original strains since they have been altered to improve strength, milk production, or quality of meat, depending on the intended use of the animal.

Deer Hair - Native to most regions of the world with the exception of Australia, deer are herbivores that consume grass, bark, twigs, and similar items. In some areas, certain species of the mammals must carry out extended migrations on an annual basis in order to ensure adequate food levels. Typically gregarious, most deer migrate and live in family groups, but males may become solitary and erratic in behavior seasonally. In fact, it is not uncommon for males to enter into vicious battles when competing for mates.

Dog Hair - One of the earliest animals to be domesticated, the dog has played a significant role in the development of human civilization. Today, most dogs are bred as pets, but the earliest dogs acted as protectors and hunting allies to humans, who realized the advantages of teaming forces with an animal possessing excellent senses of smell and hearing. Dogs were also valued for their speed and strength, and the earliest efforts of genetic control were intended to enhance these and other desirable characteristics, depending on the use for which the animal was intended.

Elk Hair - The short-necked, long-legged mammals called elks in Europe are better known as moose in the United States and Canada. Weighing in at about 1,800 pounds and growing to shoulder heights more than six feet high, these inhabitants of northern regions are the largest affiliates of the deer family, Cervidae. A fleshy protrusion called a dewlap or bell hangs from the throat of the animals, which usually exhibit shaggy brown fur that does not spin well, but is sometimes utilized by fisherman for fly tying.

Ermine Hair - During the winter in cold climes, the fur of ermines, which is at other times of the year predominantly brown, turns white, except for a black spot at the end of the tail. In areas that are a bit warmer, however, the coat of the animal only turns partially white. It is the principally white winter pelt of the ermine that is in great demand within the fur industry, where the soft, lush, highly valuable hair is often utilized to fabricate coats, stoles, and trimmings.

Goat Hair - Domestic goats, which are found around the world, are all descended from the pasang, a species of goat generally believed to be native to Asia. Through selective breeding, several different types of domestic goats have been developed, each of which is utilized for the purposes it is best suited. Some, for instance, are used as milk producers, or for meat, while others are raised primarily for their wool. The hide of young goats is also often used as leather for items such as shoes and book bindings.

Groundhog Hair - When they are not hibernating, groundhogs spend significant amounts of time eating, especially succulent grasses, building up fat reserves to last them through the long winter. The stout animals, which are usually about two feet long when including the tail, generally achieve their highest body mass in late August, weighing in at as many as 13 pounds. Despite their corpulence, however, groundhog meat is rarely eaten by humans although it is considered edible.

Guinea Pig Hair - The domesticated guinea pig is a cavy scientifically described as Cavia porcellus, which is native to South America. No longer found in the wild, the species is believed to have been domesticated thousands of years ago in pre-Incan Peru. Though common as pets in the United States, the small animals were originally raised as a readily sustainable food source and are still utilized as such in some locales.

Horse Hair - Although there are numerous different breeds of horses that vary greatly in appearance and behavior, there is only one species of this hoofed animal, Equus caballus. The wide array of horse breeds that exist today were developed by humans through many centuries of selective breeding, resulting in an assortment of animals with varying characteristics suited for specific needs. In the Middle Ages, for instance, when knights were commonly equipped with heavy armor and weapons, strong, massive animals called Great Horses were bred.

Human Hair - Humans, like most mammals, have several different kinds of hair, which typically cover most regions of the body except the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands. Hair is most densely found, however, on the scalp, where it also generally grows to the greatest lengths. Though continually shed and replenished, human hair may grow a half-inch or more per month. The constant cycle of hair loss undergone by humans is often not noticeable because each follicle carries out its processes independently, generally maintaining a constant number of hairs on the head.

Japanese Pony Belly Hair - In addition to their use for riding, ponies also serve well as pack animals due to their impressive stamina. Indeed, the Welsh pony is a particularly hardy breed that was originally developed for use in coal mining operations. Nevertheless, some ponies are raised for reasons that are far removed from their physical prowess. Japanese ponies, for instance, are valuable for their impressively soft hair, which is a popular fiber used to construct cosmetic brushes.

Kolinsky Hair - The term kolinsky does not actually refer to a specific species, but rather to several different species of weasels belonging to the genus Mustela that inhabit Siberia and the northern parts of China and Japan. Typically a yellowish brown in color, the tail hairs of these weasels are commonly utilized to make brushes for painting. The hairs are considered ideal for this application because their diameter is larger near the middle and tapers off to a fine point at the end, creating a characteristic “belly” when they are bundled together.

Leopard Hair - Several different races of leopards have been classified based on their coloration, markings, and size. There is, however, only one true species of the animals, which is scientifically described as Panthera pardus. Despite their common names, the snow leopard, clouded leopard, and leopard cat are distinct genera, the true leopard being more closely related to the lion and the tiger, which are both members of the genus Panthera.

Lincoln Sheep Wool - Coarse, but lustrous, the wool of the Lincoln sheep is well suited for a number of applications, especially those that require a fiber of high tensile strength and a soft handle. Some of the common uses of the material include specialty knitting yarns, upholstery yarns, and hand-knitted carpet yarns. When these yarns are woven into cloth, they create a textile with impressive durability and brightness.

Llama Hair - Llamas have been domesticated since the early days of Incan civilization and no longer appear in the wild. The animals are useful to humans in a variety of ways, but are primarily utilized as pack animals in the Andes Mountains. Llamas are well equipped for such a role due to their typically gentle nature, stamina, tolerance for high altitudes, diminutive need for water, and diverse diet. When they are overburdened or mistreated, however, llamas stubbornly refuse to budge and may kick, hiss, and spit.

Marmot Hair - Marmots are excellent diggers, but are also capable of swimming or climbing trees, though they do not often do so. With their stocky legs and powerful claws, the rodents are capable of excavating sizeable burrows. Some marmots, like the hoary marmot, are gregarious, and may live in groups. Others, such as the groundhog, are solitary animals, except for a short period soon after the end of hibernation when they search for a suitable mate.

Merino Wool - A number of sheep breeding nations, including Phoenicia, Italy, and Spain, are believed to have played a part in the development of the merino sheep. However, it is generally agreed upon that the Moors, who dominated Spain through the eighth to thirteenth centuries, were primarily responsible for selectively breeding the animals to such an extent that the wool they produced became superior to that of all other sheep. Indeed, the word merino may be of Moorish origin, possibly evolving from their word for a judge that settled disagreements about flocks between shepherds.

Mink Hair - Minks are semi-aquatic weasels that belong to the genus Mustela. One of the two species belonging to the genus is native to North America, while the other inhabits Central Asia and Europe. Both species have long, slender necks and bodies, short limbs, and bushy tails, but the Old World minks are generally slightly smaller than the North American variety. The nocturnal animals are exceptional swimmers and spend much of their time nearby bodies of water.

Mole Hair - Sometimes considered pests, moles are often trapped or hunted for their fur, which is quite unique. Soft, velvety, and very fine, mole fur is especially adapted to facilitate the animal’s underground movement in any direction, smoothly lying down no matter which way it points. Thus, when mole pelts are made into coats and other fur products, the fur can be brushed in any way the designer or owner chooses. Quite valuable, demand for mole fur has caused significant population declines in some areas.

Monkey Hair - Though not particularly popular in modern times, in the early 1900s monkey fur was a popular fad. The shaggy but shiny coats and capes made of black monkey fur during the period were often lined in black satin or silk, and were particularly in demand among the glamorous starlets of early Hollywood. In other parts of the world, monkey fur has been widely sought for other reasons. For instance, the Colobus monkey of Africa was hunted extensively in the past by local tribes who wanted the animal’s impressive black and white fur for ceremonial purposes.

Mouse Hair - Despite the fact that they are often considered pests, mice have been utilized by humans in various ways throughout history. They have, for instance, served as food in some areas, as well as a source of fur. Also, in recent years, the active, playful animals have become fairly common as pets. Nevertheless, the single greatest use of mice occurs in the laboratory.

Mouton Lamb Hair - Mouton lamb refers to the treated skin of a lamb that has been sheared. The hair of the skin is straightened, chemically doctored, and set with heat to produce a moisture repellent finish. This finish, along with subsequent dying, enables the material to be utilized in products intended to imitate more expensive furs, such as that of seals or beavers. Thus, mouton lamb has not been as popular as many other furs among the wealthy, but offers those with lesser incomes a chance to own fur coats and similar items.

Muskrat Hair - The fur of muskrats consists of an outer, relatively rigid layer of long guard hairs and a soft, dense underlayer that provides warmth and buoyancy to the rodent, and which is commonly utilized in the fur trade. Extremely fine and usually blackish or reddish brown in color, this underlying fur is often utilized to make coats, earmuffs, and similar items. When readied for the marketplace the muskrat pelts are often dyed to look more closely akin to other, more costly, furs.

Nutria Hair - The general appearance of the nutria is sometimes compared to that of a beaver, although the rodent has a rounded, rather than a flattened, tail. Like the beaver, however, the limbs of the nutria are short and its body is rather stout, weighing as much as 35 pounds, although 16 to 18 pounds is more typical. The nutria also features webbing on its hind feet and large incisors, and since the mouth of the aquatic animal closes behind these sizeable teeth, the nutria can readily cut down vegetation while it is swimming without water entering into the oral cavity.

Ocelot Hair - Ocelots are generally terrestrial animals, but they are also adept at climbing and swimming and are sometimes willing to enter trees or water to capture prey. The diet of the ocelot, therefore, includes birds and fish, as well as rodents and reptiles. Ocelots carry out their hunting endeavors primarily at night, though they may also be active during the day. The medium-sized felines may breed any time during the year, and males and females frequently share territories, which may comprise an area of up to three square miles.

Opossum Hair - Though generally nocturnal, opossums vary somewhat in behavior, as well as in habitat and appearance. The species most familiar to those in North America is the Virginia, or common, opossum, which is the only species that lives at such latitudes. This animal is often about the size of a domestic cat, but has a long pointy nose, rounded ears, and a long prehensile tail that lacks fur. Though adaptable, the common opossum prefers wooded areas, often establishing its den in tree stumps or hollows.

Otter Hair - One of the most valuable commodities in the fur industry, the fur of the otter consists of two different layers. The outer layer is composed of tightly knit guard hairs that form a watertight barrier between the animal and its environment. The underfur of the otter is even denser than the guard hairs and, in fact, at as many as one million hairs per square inch, is believed to be the thickest fur of any mammal on the planet.

Persian Lamb Hair - Over the last few decades, a certain amount of controversy has been associated with Persian lamb. Animal rights groups have attempted to expose the inhumanity of the practices involved in obtaining the material, but many of the charges they put forward are adamantly denied by those in the industry. Activists, for instance, claim that Karakul newborns and fetuses, the pelts of which are referred to as broadtail lamb, are being slaughtered solely for their skins, which garner extremely high prices, but producers argue that the skins are only a byproduct of meat production.

Rabbit Hair - Native to the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, numerous species of rabbits have been classified. One of the best known is the cottontail, which is widely found in North America and is so-named because of the white undersurface of its tail. Cottontail rabbits generally live in open areas in burrows they construct or that are abandoned by other animals. The gregarious European, or Old World, rabbit, however, tends to live among brush or thickets in warrens comprised of the burrows of many different rabbits.

Raccoon Hair - Raccoons have a natural lifespan of about 16 years, but in the wild do not typically survive past the age of two due to trapping and hunting by humans. Part of this hunting is carried out by those who want to simply eradicate the animals because of the destruction they can cause to crops and other property, while others pursue the animals because they are common transmitters of rabies, especially in the southeastern United States. Raccoons are also sought after by humans in order that they may be exploited for commercial profit.

Rat Hair - True rats are rodents that belong to the Rattus genus of the family Muridae, though the term is often used in a more general way. Native to Asia, these small mammals have spread worldwide by traveling with humans. The most familiar varieties are two types of house rat, Rattus norvegicus, which is commonly called the brown or Norway rat, and Rattus rattus, better known as the black or roof rat.

Russian Cony Hair - Though the thick, plush fur of the Russian cony was once considered the best rabbit fur available, the development of newer, improved breeds has displaced this animal as the most desirable in the industry. The Castor Rex, for example, which was developed in the early 1900s, is a variety of rabbit that contains no long, stiff guard hairs in its coat. This selectively produced characteristic greatly simplified the process of readying rabbit pelts for the market, since no removal of the undesirable guard hairs was necessary.

Sable Hair - Martes zibellina is the scientific name of the true sable, though several other species are also sometimes referred to as sables. Native to northern portions of Asia, the fur of the carnivorous animal is thick and soft, providing it adequate warmth and protection from the cold climates it typically inhabits. The color of the fur ranges from brown to nearly black, and a lighter-hued throat patch and silver flecks are sometimes present.

Scoured Sheep Wool - The first step in the manufacture of woolen items is the shearing of wool from sheep, a practice that often varies in the way it is carried out. In some countries, for instance, all wool from a single sheep is shorn at once, while in other areas different grades of wool are removed separately. The latter methodology makes the following step, the grading and sorting of the wool, a simpler, more expedient process. After sorting, sheep wool undergoes scouring, a washing process that removes grease, perspiration, and debris from the fibers.

Sheep Wool Felt - Felting is the process of interlocking wool, hair, or other fibers with certain characteristics together into a consolidated mass through any of a variety of processes, including treatment with heat, moisture, pressure, or agitation. The addition of soap, or the creation of an alkaline environment, may also be utilized to further ease the process of felting. The material that results, commonly known as felt, is non-woven, but the fibers which comprise it can never be returned to their original state because the keratin in the wool or other felting material becomes chemically and irreversibly bound to the protein of the other fibers.

Silver Fox Hair - The silver fox is a color morph of the red, or common, fox, which exhibits predominantly black fur interspersed with white and silver-tipped hairs. The pelt of the silver fox is highly valued and frequently utilized to make luxurious fur coats and similar items. Due to their commercial importance, silver foxes are often raised on specialized farms. Breeders working with these foxes have developed what is known as a platinum fox.

Skunk Hair - There are 11 known species of skunks, some of which are also commonly referred to as polecats. The most common varieties in the United States are two species of spotted skunks, which are both members of the genus Spilogale, and the striped skunk, which is scientifically described as Mephitis mephitis. These skunk types, as well as most others, are nocturnal and primarily feed upon birds, insects, worms, rodents, eggs, and plant matter.

Squirrel Hair - The common name of squirrels is derived from the Greek word skiouros, which means “shade tail,” an allusion to one of their most prominent features. Completely covered in fur and often longer the animal’s body and head combined, the tail is frequently bushy, but may appear flatter depending upon species and the way in which the hair grows. The color of the tail and the rest of the small mammal’s fur vary considerably, ranging from earth tones of gray, brown, and black, to brighter hues of white, yellow, orange, and red.

Timber Wolf Hair - Timber wolves have a wide natural distribution that extends across most of North America and includes much of Europe, Asia, India, and China. However, the powerful carnivores have suffered from human encroachment and their numbers have been reduced or eradicated altogether from a significant amount of their former range. In North America, for instance, where the timber wolf was honored and respected by Native Americans for thousands of years, the wild animals are now primarily restricted to Canada and Alaska, although reintroduction into other areas is underway

Wool - Wool fibers, which are primarily composed of keratin, exhibit numerous overlapping scales or plates that are all aligned in a single direction. When exposed to pressure, heat, and moisture, the scales of adjacent fibers interlock, forming the material known as felt. In a single inch of this material, there may be thousands of overlapping scales, which provides substantial strength to wool products while maintaining significant flexibility.

Yak Down - Yaks, which are scientifically described as Bos grunniens, are members of the bovine family, Bovidae. Their appearance is dominated by muscular, humped shoulders, sizable upcurved horns, and a long, shaggy outer coat of hair. In wild individuals, this coat as well as the soft, warm underfur, or wool, is usually dark brown to black in color. Domesticated yaks, however, are often piebald black and white due to their interbreeding with other domestic cattle, as well as smaller in size than their untamed counterparts.

Contributing Authors

John D. Griffin, Shannon H. Neaves, Nathan S. Claxton, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.


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