Dandy Designs-title


John Clayton It may be incongruous for a bald man to be discussing the design and wisdom of hair, but hair serves a much more complex function than we humans attach to it. Hair goes far beyond making us ugly or beautiful or even keeping us warm. In the animal world and even in plants there are many uses for hair that might surprise you.

Most of us are aware that some hair can have a waterproofing chemical added to it to keep an animal dry and to facilitate swimming. Beavers, otters, and seals use hair to survive in their water world.

Recent studies of spiders have shown us that hair has a variety of other uses. Contrary to popular opinion, tarantulas do not use a bite as their main mode of defense. Tarantulas have hairs that they shoot at an enemy. When a spider is attacked it will brush a rear leg rapidly against its abdomen and release a cloud of hairs. These hairs have barbs on them which work their way into the skin of an attacker and produce burning and itching. The tarantulas will “hiss” before releasing the hairs, and in the wild most animals that would eat the spiders have learned to stay away when there is a hiss. The hiss is actually the hairs on the pedipalps (appendages next to the mouthparts) being rubbed together. Many animals and insects make sounds using hairs.

Hairs do not just serve as weapons and sound makers, they also serve as shields. The tarantula spider Theraphosa has an enemy called the gray fly which has larvae that will feed on the spider’s blood. The spider lays down a silk mat made of web material and covers it with hair. The hair has barbs on it which stop the fly larvae from being able to move and the larvae cannot feed.

The more we study the design of hair in the natural world, the more uses we see for it. On humans, hair is pretty much decoration, but those of us who have lost our decoration have other survival skills that allow us to go on. Seeing God’s design of hair in spiders, beavers, and other animals helps us know that there is a purpose behind all God does, and one of the joys of science is to learn more about that use and the design behind it.

Source: Natural History, September 9, 1992, page 41.

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