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Why Humans and Their Fur Parted Ways

June 28, 2007 | 2,984 views

Humans are the only hairless primates, but unlike whales and walruses, which obviously lost their hair to allow them to thrive in the sea, researchers are still trying to uncover when and why humans lost their fur.

Among the many theories as to why humans are relatively hairless are:
  • The hominid line may have gone through a semi-aquatic phase (evidenced by the slight webbing on your hands)
  • Losing fur helped keep our ancestors cool (particularly when they first began crossing the African savannah)
  • Humans lost body hair to get rid of external parasites like lice, fleas and ticks – and the diseases they spread
As for when humans lost their fur, one researcher believes it has to do with a gene that helps determine skin color. Based on the genes steady accumulation of mutations, which allowed for lighter skin colors, he estimates that humans have been hairless for at least 1.2 million years.

When humans started wearing clothes is another story entirely. Experts have linked humans’ clothing to the evolution of the body louse, which clings only to clothing (not hair). The body louse evolved sometime between 42,000 and 72,000 years ago, which means humans must have been wearing clothing since at least that time … and went unclothed for the million years in between.

Of course, these are all just theories so for now the true reasons why humans are hairless, and when it all took place, is just another of the world’s great mysteries.

The New York Times June 27, 2007



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