Most people ask the question “are animals covered with hair or fur? Well, if you are one of those people, then you are at the right page. In this article, I will try as much as possible to answer your question.
Hairs are fine thread like strands growing on the skin of mammals. They are proteinous in nature. Fur is the fine, hairy coat or covering of mammals. From the above definitions, it is not difficult to fathom why the two terms are used interchangeably; both are found on mammals. Also, they both have the same chemical composition. But there are ways to differentiate the two.
While hair is a term that is commonly used to refer to the hairs on human beings, fur is used to refer to the hairy coat of animals. Fur doesn’t always mean the fine hairy covering of animals. When the word fur was introduced into English language, it was a verb, not a noun; and this verb meant to line a person’s garment with the soft hair of an animal.
It was derived from the early French verb furrer, which meant to stuff, fill or line. The term evolved over time to refer to the animal hair that was used for lining a garment. Later on, it came to mean the hairy coat on the animal itself.
Hence, by convention, mammals are said to be covered with fur; excluding human beings. That’s why you refer to your dog’s coat as fur, and call the hairs on your head hair. Sometimes the two might seem indistinguishable.
It may seem that fur is the term used to refer to the hair on animals and vice versa for human beings. To clear such notions, it is important to note that fur tends to grow to a certain length; it doesn’t exceed a specific length.
However, hairs do not grow to a specific length. In fact, they never stop growing! As long as you are alive, the hairs on your head never stop growing. Of course this quality reduces with age; hair loss and baldness are common characteristics that accompany old age. But for young people, their hairs never stop growing; that’s why women have long hair and men’s hair form dreadlocks.
Of course, not all hairs on human beings keep growing and growing; there are some that grow to a specific length. For example, the hair on your skin.
Fur and hair could also be differentiated by their texture.
While fur is coarse, hairs are relatively soft. That’s why it is much easier to run a comb through your hair than through a dog’s hair. So you see, it’s not that difficult to differentiate the two terms.
It is important to note that some mammals are covered in hair.
These mammals belong to a special class of animals called primates, of which human beings are part of.
So in context, non-primates are covered with fur while primates are covered with hair. This is true on a general scale.
But have you considered the possibility of an animal being covered with both hair and fur? Sounds absurd right? As surprising as it might sound, this notion isn’t far-fetched. Most mammals are covered with hair and fur! To make it clearer, picture a dog or a cat — you probably see a mammal covered only in fur.
But bring your mind to its nose or snout — depending on the animal in question, and you’ll probably see some protruding hairs. These hairs are called vibrissae or whiskers. So you see, an animal can be covered with both hair and fur.
Let’s look at another possibility; is it feasible for a mammal to be hairless? This sounds more absurd; I get the feeling. But let me give you a hint; water-dwelling mammals.Water-dwelling mammals are an example of hairless mammals.
Of course not all water-dwelling mammals are hairless; seals and sea lions are covered in short coarse fur. On the other hand, whales, sharks, and dolphins are hairless mammals.
Besides water-dwelling mammals, there are also hairless land-dwelling mammals; mole rats, hippos, rhinos, pangolins, armadillos and the likes. With the absence of hair which serves as an insulator, these hairless mammals have to make do with other structures or adaptions.
The internal temperature of mole rats change with changes in external temperature — they are cold-blooded or poikilothermic animals (1); unusual for mammals. Hairless water-dwelling mammals have a fatty tissue called blubber under their skin which aids temperature regulation; they act as insulators.
The absence of hair on the skin of these mammals is considered an adaption. For example, most mammals need hair for protection from the sun — just like a sunscreen. Mole rats however, live underground and do not need protection from the sun. Hence, they do not need a furry coat.
Whales and dolphins are hairless because it would be quite difficult to swim in water with a furry coat. To understand this concept, take a wig and dip it in water. You will notice that the wig will be considerably heavier when dipped in water than when dry.
If whales and dolphins had furry coats, it would be difficult for them to move their already huge bodies through water. Though whales and dolphins are considered hairless mammals, newly born dolphins and some species of whales have hairs along the jawline on the upper and lower jaw. They however lose these hairs shortly after birth.
Rhinos, hippos and elephants are hairless mammals with a common feature; their large size. Large animals can keep warm for a longer time than smaller animals. Simply put, the larger the animal, the warmer it is.
with such an adaptation, these large mammals do not need the warmth of hair as much as smaller animals; they can do without it.
From the notes above, most mammals are covered with fur and hair — vibrissae, some are hairless, while some are covered with hair. In contrast, birds, reptiles and fishes are animals devoid of hair.
However, these animals have hair cells which aid the hearing process. This fact is seen as proof of the existence of a common ancestor for all animals. Whatever the case, the facts are crystal clear; birds, reptiles and fishes are devoid of hair or fur.
- Wikipedia (Link)