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Like many mammals, grizzly bears are covered in thick fur GrizzlyBearJeanBeaufort.jpg
Like many mammals, grizzly bears are covered in thick fur

Fur is a thick growth of hair that covers the skin of many different animals, particularly mammals. It consists of a combination of oily guard hair on top and thick underfur beneath. The guard hair keeps moisture from reaching the skin; the underfur acts as an insulating blanket that keeps the animal warm. [1]


The fur of mammals has many uses: protection, sensory purposes, waterproofing, and camouflaging, with the primary usage being thermoregulation. [2] The types of hair include: [3] :99

Hair length is negligible in thermoregulation, as some tropical mammals, such as sloths, have the same fur length as some arctic mammals but with less insulation; and, conversely, other tropical mammals with short hair have the same insulating value as arctic mammals. The denseness of fur can increase an animal's insulation value, and arctic mammals especially have dense fur; for example, the musk ox has guard hairs measuring 30 cm (12 in) as well as a dense underfur, which forms an airtight coat, allowing them to survive in temperatures of −40 °C (−40 °F). [3] :162–163 Some desert mammals, such as camels, use dense fur to prevent solar heat from reaching their skin, allowing the animal to stay cool; a camel's fur may reach 70 °C (158 °F) in the summer, but the skin stays at 40 °C (104 °F). [3] :188 Aquatic mammals, conversely, trap air in their fur to conserve heat by keeping the skin dry. [3] :162–163

A leopard's disruptively colored coat provides camouflage for this ambush predator. Great male Leopard in South Afrika-JD.JPG
A leopard's disruptively colored coat provides camouflage for this ambush predator.

Mammalian coats are colored for a variety of reasons, the major selective pressures including camouflage, sexual selection, communication, and physiological processes such as temperature regulation. Camouflage is a powerful influence in many mammals, as it helps to conceal individuals from predators or prey. [4] Aposematism, warning off possible predators, is the most likely explanation of the black-and-white pelage of many mammals which are able to defend themselves, such as in the foul-smelling skunk and the powerful and aggressive honey badger. [5] In arctic and subarctic mammals such as the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus), collared lemming (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus), stoat (Mustela erminea), and snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), seasonal color change between brown in summer and white in winter is driven largely by camouflage. [6] Differences in female and male coat color may indicate nutrition and hormone levels, important in mate selection. [7] Some arboreal mammals, notably primates and marsupials, have shades of violet, green, or blue skin on parts of their bodies, indicating some distinct advantage in their largely arboreal habitat due to convergent evolution. [8] The green coloration of sloths, however, is the result of a symbiotic relationship with algae. [9] Coat color is sometimes sexually dimorphic, as in many primate species. [10] Coat color may influence the ability to retain heat, depending on how much light is reflected. Mammals with darker colored coats can absorb more heat from solar radiation and stay warmer; some smaller mammals, such as voles, have darker fur in the winter. The white, pigmentless fur of arctic mammals, such as the polar bear, may reflect more solar radiation directly onto the skin. [3] :166–167 [2]

Opossum fur Opossum fur.jpg
Opossum fur

The term pelage first known use in English c.1828 (French, from Middle French, from poil for 'hair', from Old French peilss, from Latin pilus [11] ) is sometimes used to refer to an animal's complete coat. The term fur is also used to refer to animal pelts which have been processed into leather with their hair still attached. The words fur or furry are also used, more casually, to refer to hair-like growths or formations, particularly when the subject being referred to exhibits a dense coat of fine, soft "hairs". If layered, rather than grown as a single coat, it may consist of short down hairs, long guard hairs, and in some cases, medium awn hairs. Mammals with reduced amounts of fur are often called "naked", as with the naked mole-rat, or "hairless", as with hairless dogs.

An animal with commercially valuable fur is known within the fur industry as a furbearer. [12] The use of fur as clothing or decoration is controversial; animal welfare advocates object to the trapping and killing of wildlife, and to the confinement and killing of animals on fur farms.


Down, awn and guard hairs of a domestic tabby cat Down Awn and guard hairs of cat 2012 11 13 9203r.JPG
Down, awn and guard hairs of a domestic tabby cat

The modern mammalian fur arrangement is known to have occurred as far back as docodonts, haramiyidans and eutriconodonts, with specimens of Castorocauda , Megaconus and Spinolestes preserving compound follicles with both guard hair and underfur.

Fur may consist of three layers, each with a different type of hair.

Down hair

Down hair (also known as underfur, undercoat or ground hair) is the bottomor innerlayer, composed of wavy or curly hairs with no straight portions or sharp points. Down hairs, which are also flat, tend to be the shortest and most numerous in the coat. Thermoregulation is the principal function of the down hair, which insulates a layer of dry air next to the skin.

Awn hair

The awn hair can be thought of as a hybrid, bridging the gap between the distinctly different characteristics of down and guard hairs. Awn hairs begin their growth much like guard hairs, but less than half way to their full length, awn hairs start to grow thin and wavy like down hair. The proximal part of the awn hair assists in thermoregulation (like the down hair), whereas the distal part can shed water (like the guard hair). The awn hair's thin basal portion does not allow the amount of piloerection that the stiffer guard hairs are capable of. Mammals with well developed down and guard hairs also usually have large numbers of awn hairs, which may even sometimes be the bulk of the visible coat.

Guard hair

Guard hair is the topor outerlayer of the coat. Guard hairs are longer, generally coarser, and have nearly straight shafts that protrude through the layer of softer down hair. The distal end of the guard hair is the visible layer of most mammal coats. This layer has the most marked pigmentation and gloss, manifesting as coat markings that are adapted for camouflage or display. Guard hair repels water and blocks sunlight, protecting the undercoat and skin in wet or aquatic habitats, and from the sun's ultraviolet radiation. Guard hairs can also reduce the severity of cuts or scratches to the skin. Many mammals, such as the domestic dog and cat, have a pilomotor reflex that raises their guard hairs as part of a threat display when agitated.

Mammals with reduced fur

Computer generated image of wet fur Wet Fur - CGI.jpg
Computer generated image of wet fur

Hair is one of the defining characteristics of mammals; however, several species or breeds have considerably reduced amounts of fur. These are often called "naked" or "hairless".

Natural selection

Some mammals naturally have reduced amounts of fur. Some semiaquatic or aquatic mammals such as cetaceans, pinnipeds and hippopotamuses have evolved hairlessness, presumably to reduce resistance through water. The naked mole-rat has evolved hairlessness, perhaps as an adaptation to their subterranean life-style. Two of the largest extant terrestrial mammals, the elephant and the rhinoceros, are largely hairless. The hairless bat is mostly hairless but does have short bristly hairs around its neck, on its front toes, and around the throat sac, along with fine hairs on the head and tail membrane. Most hairless animals cannot go in the sun for long periods of time, or stay in the cold for too long. [13]

Humans are the only primate species that have undergone significant hair loss. The hairlessness of humans compared to related species may be due to loss of functionality in the pseudogene KRTHAP1 (which helps produce keratin) [14] Although the researchers dated the mutation to 240 000 ya, both the Altai Neandertal and Denisovan have the loss-of-function mutation, indicating it is much older. Mutations in the gene HR can lead to complete hair loss, though this is not typical in humans. [15]

The hair of sheep is commonly referred to as wool, rather than fur.

Artificial selection

At times, when a hairless domesticated animal is discovered, usually owing to a naturally occurring genetic mutation, humans may intentionally inbreed those hairless individuals and, after multiple generations, artificially create breeds that are hairless. There are several breeds of hairless cats, perhaps the most commonly known being the Sphynx cat. Similarly, there are some breeds of hairless dogs. Other examples of artificially selected hairless animals include the hairless guinea-pig, nude mouse, and the hairless rat.

Use in clothing

The iconic bearskins of the Queen's Guard at Buckingham Palace are made from the fur of American black bears Buckingham-palace-guard-11279634947G5ru.jpg
The iconic bearskins of the Queen's Guard at Buckingham Palace are made from the fur of American black bears
A seal fur coat worn by Carl Ben Eielson (1897-1929), USAF pilot & Arctic explorer Carl Eielson.jpg
A seal fur coat worn by Carl Ben Eielson (1897–1929), USAF pilot & Arctic explorer

Fur has long served as a source of clothing for humans, including Neanderthals. Historically, it was worn for its insulating quality, with aesthetics becoming a factor over time. Pelts were worn in or out, depending on their characteristics and desired use. Today fur and trim used in garments may be dyed bright colors or to mimic exotic animal patterns, or shorn close like velvet. The term "a fur" may connote a coat, wrap, or shawl.

The manufacturing of fur clothing involves obtaining animal pelts where the hair is left on the animal's processed skin. In contrast, making leather involves removing the hair from the hide or pelt and using only the skin.

Fur is also used to make felt. A common felt is made from beaver fur and is used in bowler hats, top hats, and high-end cowboy hats. [16]

Common furbearers used include fox, rabbit, mink, beaver, ermine, otter, sable, seal, coyote, chinchilla, raccoon, and possum.

Even though the use of fur has become controversial, the fur clothing industry is still a very large market.

See also

Related Research Articles

Arctic fox Species of fox

The Arctic fox, also known as the white fox, polar fox, or snow fox, is a small fox native to the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and common throughout the Arctic tundra biome. It is well adapted to living in cold environments, and is best known for its thick, warm fur that is also used as camouflage. It has a large and very fluffy tail. In the wild, most individuals do not live past their first year but some exceptional ones survive up to 11 years. Its body length ranges from 46 to 68 cm, with a generally rounded body shape to minimize the escape of body heat.

Camouflage Concealment in plain sight by any means, e.g. colour, pattern and shape

Camouflage is the use of any combination of materials, coloration, or illumination for concealment, either by making animals or objects hard to see, or by disguising them as something else. Examples include the leopard's spotted coat, the battledress of a modern soldier, and the leaf-mimic katydid's wings. A third approach, motion dazzle, confuses the observer with a conspicuous pattern, making the object visible but momentarily harder to locate. The majority of camouflage methods aim for crypsis, often through a general resemblance to the background, high contrast disruptive coloration, eliminating shadow, and countershading. In the open ocean, where there is no background, the principal methods of camouflage are transparency, silvering, and countershading, while the ability to produce light is among other things used for counter-illumination on the undersides of cephalopods such as squid. Some animals, such as chameleons and octopuses, are capable of actively changing their skin pattern and colours, whether for camouflage or for signalling. It is possible that some plants use camouflage to evade being eaten by herbivores.

Hair Protein filament that grows from follicles found in the dermis, or skin

Hair is a protein filament that grows from follicles found in the dermis. Hair is one of the defining characteristics of mammals. The human body, apart from areas of glabrous skin, is covered in follicles which produce thick terminal and fine vellus hair. Most common interest in hair is focused on hair growth, hair types, and hair care, but hair is also an important biomaterial primarily composed of protein, notably alpha-keratin.

Mammal Class of animals with milk-producing glands

Mammals are a group of vertebrate animals constituting the class Mammalia, and characterized by the presence of mammary glands which in females produce milk for feeding (nursing) their young, a neocortex, fur or hair, and three middle ear bones. These characteristics distinguish them from reptiles and birds, from which they diverged in the Carboniferous, over 300 million years ago. Around 6,400 extant species of mammals have been described. The largest orders are the rodents, bats and Eulipotyphla. The next three are the Primates, the Artiodactyla, and the Carnivora.

Skin Soft outer covering organ of vertebrates

Skin is the layer of usually soft, flexible outer tissue covering the body of a vertebrate animal, with three main functions: protection, regulation, and sensation.

Otter Subfamily of mammals (Lutrinae)

Otters are carnivorous mammals in the subfamily Lutrinae. The 13 extant otter species are all semiaquatic, aquatic or marine, with diets based on fish and invertebrates. Lutrinae is a branch of the Mustelidae family, which also includes weasels, badgers, mink, and wolverines, among other animals.

Melanin Group of natural pigments found in most organisms

Melanin is a broad term for a group of natural pigments found in most organisms. Melanin is produced through a multistage chemical process known as melanogenesis, where the oxidation of the amino acid tyrosine is followed by polymerization. The melanin pigments are produced in a specialized group of cells known as melanocytes.

Cornish Rex Breed of cat

A Cornish Rex is a breed of domestic cat. The Cornish Rex has no hair except for down. Most breeds of cat have three different types of hair in their coats: the outer fur or "guard hairs", a middle layer called the "awn hair"; and the down hair or undercoat, which is very fine and about 1 cm long. Cornish Rexes only have the undercoat. They are prone to hair loss and many will develop a very thin coat or even go bald over large parts of their body. The curl in their fur is caused by a different mutation and gene than that of the Devon Rex. The breed originated in Cornwall, Great Britain.

Thermoregulation Ability of an organism to keep its body temperature within certain boundaries

Thermoregulation is the ability of an organism to keep its body temperature within certain boundaries, even when the surrounding temperature is very different. A thermoconforming organism, by contrast, simply adopts the surrounding temperature as its own body temperature, thus avoiding the need for internal thermoregulation. The internal thermoregulation process is one aspect of homeostasis: a state of dynamic stability in an organism's internal conditions, maintained far from thermal equilibrium with its environment. If the body is unable to maintain a normal temperature and it increases significantly above normal, a condition known as hyperthermia occurs. Humans may also experience lethal hyperthermia when the wet bulb temperature is sustained above 35 °C (95 °F) for six hours. The opposite condition, when body temperature decreases below normal levels, is known as hypothermia. It results when the homeostatic control mechanisms of heat within the body malfunction, causing the body to lose heat faster than producing it. Normal body temperature is around 37 °C (99 °F), and hypothermia sets in when the core body temperature gets lower than 35 °C (95 °F). Usually caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, hypothermia is usually treated by methods that attempt to raise the body temperature back to a normal range.

Cat coat genetics Genetics responsible for the appearance of a cats fur

Cat coat genetics determine the coloration, pattern, length, and texture of feline fur. Understanding how is challenging because many genes are involved. The variations among cat coats are physical properties and should not be confused with cat breeds. A cat may display the coat of a certain breed without actually being that breed. For example, a Siberian could wear point coloration, the stereotypical coat of a Siamese.

Awn hair

Awn hairs are the intermediate hairs in a mammal's coat. They are shorter than the guard hairs and longer than the down hairs. They help with insulation and protect the down hairs underneath. Most of the visible coat is made of this kind of hair.

Animal coat Nature and quality of a mammals pelage

Coat is the nature and quality of a mammal's pelage. In the animal fancy, coat is an attribute that reflects the quality of a specimen's breeding as well as the level of the animal's care, conditioning, and management. Coat is an integral aspect of the judging at competitions such as a conformation dog show, a cat show, a horse show, or a rabbit show.

Dog coat

The coat of the domestic dog refers to the hair that covers its body. Dogs demonstrate a wide range of coat colors, patterns, textures, and lengths.

Rabbit hair

Rabbit hair is the fur of the common rabbit. It is most commonly used in the making of fur hats and coats, and is considered quite valuable today, although it was once a lower-priced commodity in the fur trade.

Animal coloration General appearance of an animal

Animal coloration is the general appearance of an animal resulting from the reflection or emission of light from its surfaces. Some animals are brightly coloured, while others are hard to see. In some species, such as the peafowl, the male has strong patterns, conspicuous colours and is iridescent, while the female is far less visible.

Cuttlefish Order of molluscs

Cuttlefish or cuttles are marine molluscs of the order Sepiida. They belong to the class Cephalopoda, which also includes squid, octopuses, and nautiluses. Cuttlefish have a unique internal shell, the cuttlebone, which is used for control of buoyancy.

Silver fox (animal) Melanistic form of red fox

The silver fox is a melanistic form of the red fox. Silver foxes display a great deal of pelt variation. Some are completely glossy black except for a white colouration on the tip of the tail, giving them a somewhat silvery appearance. Some silver foxes are bluish-grey, and some may have a cinereous colour on the sides.

As in other mammals, thermoregulation in humans is an important aspect of homeostasis. In thermoregulation, body heat is generated mostly in the deep organs, especially the liver, brain, and heart, and in contraction of skeletal muscles. Humans have been able to adapt to a great diversity of climates, including hot humid and hot arid. High temperatures pose serious stress for the human body, placing it in great danger of injury or even death. For humans, adaptation to varying climatic conditions includes both physiological mechanisms resulting from evolution and behavioural mechanisms resulting from conscious cultural adaptations.

Snow camouflage Camouflage coloration for winter snow

Snow camouflage is the use of a coloration or pattern for effective camouflage in winter, often combined with a different summer camouflage. Summer patterns are typically disruptively patterned combinations of shades of browns and greys, up to black, while winter patterns are dominated by white to match snowy landscapes.


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