Mammal body hair is a complex structure that involves several basic parts, including a shaft, a root, and a follicle. The most common theory currently in vogue is that hair evolved from reptile scales. Although both scales and hair preserve well in the fossil record, especially in amber, no
evidence of hair evolution has been found after more than a century of searching. Another problem is that all primates have thick, coarse hair called fur, and explanations as to how this fur was lost in human evolution are deficient and contradictory.


Hair is a defining characteristic of mammals. It is found on all mammals and on no other animal (Denton, 1986). Even the “hairless” mammals, including pigs, elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, whales, dolphins, and other cetaceans (all of which are mammals) are partly covered with very fine short hair, especially in the young. The many functions of hair include the retention of heat, sexual dimorphism, attraction of mates, protection of skin, reflection (or absorption) of sunlight and, in the case of pets, the elicitation of a protective response from humans.

The Structure of Hair

Hair is a complex structure that is epidermal in origin. Animal hair is constructed out of proteins “composed of thousands of amino acids linked together in a highly organized arrangement and sequence” (Saferstein, 2002, p. 205). Hair is held in place below the epidermis by a root situated in a shaft surrounded by a hair follicle. The hair follicle consists of an epidermal and a dermal root sheath. One or more sebaceous glands also exist in the hair follicle and serve to secrete oil into the space between the shaft and the surrounding tissues. This oil lubricates the area and traps moisture, a function that benefits both the hair and the skin….

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