February 11, 2016

"What is the difference between hair and fur?"

Answer: "Hair and fur are the same thing."
SA: Why is it then that, for example, my dog's fur is three inches long and it never seems to grow longer, while my own hair keeps growing and growing?

NS: Actually, a lot of types of human hair won't keep growing and growing. The normal length of the hair is an individual and species specific trait. So across the breadth of mammals, there are many norms for hair length, or fur length....

SA: Is a whisker a special kind of hair?

NS: Yes, it is. There are many different kinds of modified hairs to which we give different names. A porcupines quills are greatly enlarged hairs. Whiskers are hairs that work as sensory receptors. There's a strange animal from the Old World called a pangolin, which has these scaly plates that cover most of its body those are modified hairs.
Tree Pangolin.JPG
By Valerius Tygart - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

46 comments:

Fernandinande said...

This dog is wearing a wig.

traditionalguy said...

I beg to differ. There is a real difference. Fur is rough and sheds. Hair is soft and grows into it is cut.

Cocker spaniels are the hair ones. Labs are the fur ones.

Quaestor said...

Nope. Hair and fur are the same thing. The distinction is purely artificial, and many languages don't make any distinction. Both hair and fur shed. Shedding can be heavy and seasonal, or random and continuous. Some hair is fine and dense, which people tend to call fur, other hair is less dense and more course, which the same people call hair.

The hair/fur thing is an argument mainly confined to native English speakers.

Most people confuse their own habitual yet bogus classification. So-called fur when seen in isolation from it source animal is often called hair. Example: a camel hair brush is actually bristled with hair from non-camels like squirrels (a rodent) and ferrets (a mustelid), both animals are usually called fur-bearing.

traditionalguy said...

Who to believe? Quaestor or my lying eyes?

I suppose apples and oranges are not different either. THEY ARE BOTH FRUITS.

rehajm said...

Looked for a Pangolin everywhere. African Unicorn, really.

madAsHell said...

My eyebrows started growing when I hit 50. I have to trim them to avoid the mad-scientist-from-central-casting look.
Wazzup wid dat!

Ann Althouse said...

"Fur is rough and sheds."

The fur of a fur coat isn't rough.

Ann Althouse said...

The hair on a man's body seems rough. To call it "fur" would make it sound softer.

I think this is an issue that some dog owners like to bring up. I got into this question from yesterday's dog post, the one about pugs. People like to say that they have the kind of dog that has hair not fur. It's an interesting matter of expression, to me.

Bob Ellison said...

I grew a beard recently. Shaved it off. One of the more annoying things about it was the shedding. I'm accustomed to that with my hair, but when you've got coarse fur coming off your face, into your breakfast burrito, it's a little disgusting.

tim in vermont said...

In a hundred years, maybe still in a thousand years, they will be talking about today being the day that another of Einstein's great predictions was confirmed.

http://motls.blogspot.com/2016/02/ligo-discovers-black-hole-merger-12.html

tim in vermont said...

One of these days perhaps climate scientist can have a prediction confirmed.

Mary Beth said...

I've wondered why when it's on my cats, it's fur, but when it's on everything else in the house, it's hair.

Mike said...

My whiskers too are a special kind of hair, or group of hairs to be more precise. Some whiskers are made of up to 7 individual hairs that grow altogether as if laminated. Of course arm, leg and pubic hairs have the characteristic of growing to a certain length and no more, closer to animal fur.

Quaestor said...

The hair on a man's body seems rough. To call it "fur" would make it sound softer.

Humans have a coat of fur (or hair) much like a young ape while in utero. It's called lanugo, and it is typically shed (or more accurately dissolved) about the middle of the third trimester to be replaced by the vellus hair. Occasionally babies are born with some lanugo still in place. This was said to be auspicious.

Mike said...

MadasHell, next up is the sudden ear hair sprouts. The fifth decade is such an adventure of bodily changes!

eric said...

My heart hurts for the animal being pictured, who doesn't understand the reason he is being photographed.

traditionalguy said...

My lying eyes still recalls seeing Lab fur that never grew but fell out, and lay in one direction and was rough to the touch. But the cocker spaniel had soft curly hair that needed haircuts regularly and never fell out.

It sounds like a taxonomists war dilemma. Should we call it hairlike fur or furlike fur to settle the academic wars?

ceowens said...

Funny how glorious hair, a la Stana Katic, can be beautiful in the conglomerate but one of those in your soup, not so much.

Kelly Maenpaa said...

Long time lurker, first time poster.

Interestingly enough, a previous thread regarding Persian Lamb comes to mind for the purposes of this comparison.

I used to work for a furrier many moons ago, and we always considered fur (mink, raccoon, beaver, etc.) to be different than hair (Persian Lamb, Astrakhan, Broadtail Lamb). It was understood that fur has two layers, a thick fuzzy underfur coupled with longer, protective guard hairs. The rough (or not) feel of the hairs has more to do with the individual animals and the industry's scale of skin (pelt) quality.

Mink, beaver and raccoon can be sheared, effectively removing the guard hairs and exposing the underfur; the final product is akin to a lush, thick velvet with a nap. Persian Lamb and its cousins don't have the two layer characteristics. I would also include shearling lamb in this. Another qualification is that you can easily touch skin if you part the hairs as you would on your scalp. Parting the underfur to get to the skin is not as easy.

My examples are not scientific; Quaestor, as posted above, could indeed have the right of it and it all comes down to a distinction without a difference.

sinz52 said...

There was an incredible but true story about a woman whose hair follicles went into overdrive. Instead of hair growing out of her hair follicles, spikes started growing out of them, resembling porcupine quills or fingernail clippings. Because fingernails are made of the same stuff, keratin, only thicker.

http://tinyurl.com/d7qpsgm

As far as is known, she is the only such case.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

I always thought the difference between hair and fur was one continued to grow. Therefore on a human (to keep it species specific) the head grows hair but the arms and arm pits grow fur.

Why is that not a valid distinction? We distinguish hair from beards and fingernails.

Ian F. Shield said...

Nice photo of Chuck Schumer in this post.

Ann Althouse said...

@Kelly Maenpaa

Thanks for commenting!

I appreciate all the detail.

I've heard talk about the Lab having two levels of fur/hair... something about that keeping him warm in the water. Seems related to that description of mink, raccoon, beaver -- they're swimmers, right?

a

jaed said...

I always thought the difference between hair and fur was one continued to grow. [...] Why is that not a valid distinction?

Because it's not a distinction at all. Hair grows, wherever it is on the body. Try shaving your underarms, and you will note that the hairs regrow. Try not cutting your hair, and you will note that it doesn't keep on growing forever. Each hair grows to a certain length and then it falls out.

The natural hair lengths differ between animals and for different parts of the body (and with age and health, and between people or between animals, and between the inner and outer coat for animals that have them) - in other words, there are different types of hair with different natural lengths, but all hair or fur works the same way. It reaches its natural length and then stops getting longer, as each individual hair grows to that length and then falls out.

I can't believe so many people think head hair just keeps growing longer unless you cut it. Doesn't anyone around here wear their hair uncut?

Michael K said...

When it's one the dog, it is fur. When it is in the carpet, it is hair.

My Roomba has to have its little basket changed every half hour when it is running around the house. The dog doesn't pay it any attention but a friend's cat rides hers.

Bob Boyd said...

When it's on Trump's mistress, it's fake fur.
When it's on Trump's head, it's fake hair.

David said...

It is fur until it leaves the cat or dog and then it's hair.

I sometimes call my dog fur ball but never hair ball. That's a cat thing. So it's hair after the cat swallows it too. And when it comes back up to greet you.

Could we say that fur has utility but hair is ornamental? Of course if that were true we would call it pubic fur. Why don't quadruped mammals have public fur? Or do they? Are humans the only ones?

In my teens I kept waiting for my chest fur to develop. It never did. For a while I was puzzled but not really disappointed. Plus I got compensated. In my 8th decade I still have head hair of the same density as when young. Color and texture, not so much, but you can't have everything.

David said...

Many arctic dogs have layers of fur. Don't know about all of them because I haven't met all of them.

David said...

Dog and hair. What a great post.

wildswan said...

I didn't cut my hair when I was a hippie and it grew down to my waist. Then I started cutting because it was heavy. Maybe it had a maximum length (my feet?) but it didn't feel that way; it felt as if it would keep growing as long as I let it alone.

Quaestor said...

Seems related to that description of mink, raccoon, beaver -- they're swimmers, right?

Well, not mink. Minks are mustelids, and they're not good swimmers. Otters are also members of the family, but they have adaptations for an aquatic life in cold water which minks, martens, badgers, stoats, sables, ferrets, and polecats lack.

Labs have at least three adaptations that make them good swimmers. Firstly, they tend to be fat. By being compact and rolly-polly Labradors have a buoyancy advantage over leaner, rangy dogs like the sighthounds (Greyhounds, Deerhounds, Borzois, etc.) Whereas a Greyhound has to swim vigorously just to avoid drowning, a Lab can float almost without effort. Labs have short legs with broad feet which while swimming propel them efficiently. Some people say they have "webbed" feet. This is true but trivial. All dogs have "webbing" between the toes. Lastly Labs have oily coats which helps water drain away. They lack the undercoat that many Goldens have which conveys a subtle advantage. If you're a duck hunter and you're trying to lift your retriever from icy water and into your boat you appreciate the fact that the many pounds of water that might get trapped in a Golden's undercoat aren't trapped in the Labrador's oily water repellant hair. BTW, the oils that help "waterproof" Labs also make them smelly.

Laslo Spatula said...

Blind-test a Merkin made of fur and a Merkin made of hair.

That should answer all of your questions.

I am Laslo.

Quaestor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob Ellison said...

The webbing between toes varies greatly among dogs.

Quaestor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quaestor said...

All this controversy about fur versus hair led me to suspect that it boiled down to linguistics rather than to firm quantifiable fact, which encouraged me just look up the words themselves and particularly their etymologies.

The word fur is not directly related to hair or anything related to a natural covering like skin. It first appears in Middle English --that is after the Norman Conquest -- and derives from the Norman verb furrer, meaning “to stuff, line, or fill”, which itself derived from an earlier French noun fuerre, meaning “sheath”. Related words are Frankish fōdar (“sheath”), Gothic fōdr (“sheath”), German das Futter (“lining”).

In my casual readings of the Icelandic sagas (in translation) I picked up a lot of seemingly useless information, which nevertheless pops in from memory to illuminate the most unexpected things – such are the advantages of an eclectic taste. In this case it is the fact that according to Snorri Sturluson in his “Poetic Edda”, the Viking practice was to make a sword scabbard from rawhide with the hair side turned inward in contact with the blade. Perhaps that helped protect the steel from dampness, or it helped facilitate a quick draw – whatever, but one can easily imagine how the term for the finished manufactured thing itself – in this case a lined sheath – could be attached to the raw material – a hide with the hair attached.

This also explains why English has this hair/fur confusion that other languages lack. It's rather like the pig/pork cow/beef dualities.

(reposted with typos fixed)

Fritz said...

Blogger David said...
Many arctic dogs have layers of fur. Don't know about all of them because I haven't met all of them.


Siberians for sure. Mine is getting ready to blow her winter undercoat in favor of the thinner summer one. The underfur is all gray, and finely crimped to fluff up to maximum volume. The overcoat is mostly black, where it isn't white, and sleek. She feels like a stuffed animal.

LordSomber said...

It's like the difference between "essen" and "fressen."

n.n said...

Spatial density.

Craig said...

Horses grow hair in the fall for their winter coats and they shed it leaving only the underlying fur in the spring and summer.

Quaestor said...

The peculiar thing about horse coats is that it isn't temperature that determines when the coat thickens and when it sheds. It's the length of daylight.

CStanley said...

The peculiar thing about horse coats is that it isn't temperature that determines when the coat thickens and when it sheds. It's the length of daylight.

2/12/16, 6:10 AM

This is true for dogs as well. The seasonal shedding is a bit less pronounced in dogs that are mainly indoors, but generally there is increased shedding in the spring and again in the fall.

Fritz said...

The peculiar thing about horse coats is that it isn't temperature that determines when the coat thickens and when it sheds. It's the length of daylight.

A vet told me once that the shed was triggered by the solstice, the change from shortening to lengthening days. That seems to be about right. It was 14.5 in outdoors this morning, but the dog is getting ready to blow her coat now. It takes a long time for it all to work loose, though.

For a husky, a second shed is triggered at the summer solstice, so they can grow the new winter undercoat.

Fritz said...

LordSomber said...
It's like the difference between "essen" and "fressen."


Good point; I remembered that this morning and meant to mention it.

But it's also like the difference between a forest and trees.

Kelly Maenpaa said...

Thanks, Quaestor, for your follow up. Love the etymology of the fur/hair debate. Guess our furrier info was not as correct as I thought. Oh well.

Jane the Actuary said...

I never really understood the whole business of hair just stopping its growth. After all, how do the hair follicles on my leg know that I've shaved the hair that's growing out of them? Leg-hair shaving should be a one-and-done thing, then, but it's not.