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Hairless Animals—The Naked Truth

Think you’re having a bad hair day? At least you’re not a penguin chick in the South Atlantic.

Large numbers of baby penguins in South Africa and Argentina are mysteriously losing their plumage, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced recently. (See penguin pictures.)

These so-called “naked penguins” are victims of a rare disease called feather-loss disorder. So far, the possible causes include pathogens, thyroid disorders, nutrient imbalances, or genetics, according to the conservation group.

Scientists who recently studied the disorder in Argentina’s Magellanic penguins found that bare chicks grew more slowly and were smaller in size and weight than their normal feathered kin.

A “naked” Magellanic penguin chick in Punta Tombo, Argentina.

Photograph courtesy Jeffrey Smith

Naked penguins got me thinking about how nature has evolved ways to keep us warm and dry. Hair is a defining feature of mammals, as feathers are to birds. Hair can also serve as camouflage—think a leopard’s spots—or as defense mechanisms, like a porcupine’s quills, which are actually modified hairs.

Sometimes, though, species are just born “naked.”

Take us, for example. Oddly, humans are unique among primates for our near-total bodily hairlessness. In fact, only a handful of the 5,000 or so mammals—mostly semi-aquatic species such as whales, walruses, and hippopotamuses—are not covered in dense fur, National Geographic News reported in 2003. (Human hairlessness may be a strategy to shed the ticks, lice, fleas, and other parasites that nestle deep in fur.) Of course, we wear clothes for warmth—and for other reasons that don’t need elaboration.

Then there’s the naked mole rat, a type of burrowing rodent with wrinkly skin and a generally walrus-like appearance. Like insects, several dozen rats live together in colonies led by one dominant rat—the queen. The hairless critter was also the subject of a successful April Fool’s Day prank in Florida in 1984.


A naked mole rat was the subject of a 1984 April Fool’s Day prank.

Photograph by Robert Clark, National Geographic

The Transylvanian naked neck chicken has a featherless, bright red neck that’s the result of a random genetic mutation, I reported last month. Why the bare neck? It’s not to give Romanian vampires easier access—more likely, it helps the birds handle the heat better, scientists say.

Sightings of hairless creatures are also fodder for urban legends, like the mythical chupacabras.

Tales of a mysterious monster that sucks the blood of livestock have exploded in Mexico, the U.S. Southwest, and even China since the mid-1990s, when the chupacabra was first reported in Puerto Rico (map), we reported in 2010.

“In almost all these cases, the monsters have turned out to be coyotes suffering from very severe cases of mange, a painful, potentially fatal skin disease that can cause the animals’ hair to fall out and skin to shrivel, among other symptoms,” the story said.

Mange can also affect other species in the wild—in 2003 in Florida, people reported seeing balding bears. (Read the hair-raising tale of Dolores, a bear that went bald at a German zoo.)

Likewise, red foxes with a rare genetic condition known as Sampson—an abnormality in which the animal lacks a layer of fur called guard hair—have been sighted throughout the country in recent years. These diseased animals have a kangaroo-shaped head, big upright ears, and a long ratlike tail.

Not exactly what you’d call a, er, foxy look.

Check out more weird coverage on National Geographic News.

Comments

  1. [...] species and go nudist … or at least bald-headed. A little while back we brought you a list of hairless animals, from funky naked mole rats to bare bears. Here are a few additions—some naturally nude, some not—to the bald [...]

  2. [...] species and go nudist … or at least bald-headed. A little while back we brought you a list of hairless animals, from funky naked mole rats to bare bears. Here are a few additions—some naturally nude, some not—to the bald [...]

  3. ADRIANA
    Mexico
    September 11, 2012, 10:59 pm

    This weird hairless animal you called chupacabras.
    It´s one of the first ancient dogs that the aztecs called xoloscuintle.

  4. Quackers Web
    Lompoc, CA
    May 5, 2011, 5:16 pm

    “Oddly, humans are unique among primates for our near-total bodily hairlessness. In fact, only a handful of the 5,000 or so mammals—mostly semi-aquatic species such as whales, walruses, and hippopotamuses—are not covered in dense fur.”

    Humans are also the only primates that enjoy regularly bathing and swimming in shallow water – and have a bi-pedal stance that allows hiding most of our bodies under water.

    We regularly bathe to remove oily deposits from our skin. Other animals would use oily deposits to waterproof their body hair and skin.

    We also sweat when we overheat – instead of pant like most land animals with fur. And our urine has a low ratio of salts to water – appropriate for camouflaging waste water from predators in shallow seas – but inappropriate if you wanted to survive the desert heat – where the body must conserve water.

    So, instead of body hair, we have an extra layer of subcutaneous fat tissue for warmth and added buoyancy.

    And, we normally have sex – face-to-face – like dolphins, which is an appropriate defensive posture against predators in open water.

    This strongly suggests an aquatic origin for the human species – where bipedal locomotion could be fostered by water – and where body hair would be strongly selected against in favor of heat insulating and buoyancy promoting body fat. Except for our heads – which would need hair for protection from water-reflected sunlight and cold above the water.

    Without a water origin, humans would never have developed arms which are useless for locomotion, because our arms can not support our body weight for chasing prey on land in a four-legged gait, or haul ourselves into trees like bonobos and orangutans.

    Our upright walking and running posture is the result of developing to forage in shallow water. Our feet and hands still have vestigial webbing appropriate for swimming and digging for clams in muddy waters.

    Add to that our vascular diving reflex (which conserves oxygen for vital organs when under water) and ability to extend voluntary control over breathing. And, the fact that human babies instinctively swim when born. They do not walk or run like other land mammals. No other primate species shares these features.

    We developed large brains from a food supply high in Omega-3 oily fats — like fish. Land ecologies do not provide easy access to Omega-3 – and modern humans actually have a smaller brain case than the recently extinct Neanderthals, as nature selects for a more efficient brain design for an Omega-3 scarce land ecology.

    Add to that the human dependence on a regular source of iodine to regulate our metabolism. Iodine is prevalent in sea ecologies – and difficult to find in land ecologies.

    Pre-glacial climate change probably forced humans out of the water and into the savanna plains of Africa. Humans survived that climate change by being more adaptable, inventive, and social, necessary characteristics for social survival in shallow water environments.

    Perhaps, the increasing frequency of naturally occurring naked animals surviving to breeding age is a clear confirmation of global warming and its long term effects on the species most likely to adapt to rising seas and higher temperatures and humidity.

    Elaine Morgan has published 6 books with the last being her 1999 “The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis” to the origin of the human species. First proposed by Alister Hardy in 1930, the theory surfaced again in 1960 in Hardy’s article published in the “New Scientist”.

    Water is the key to the origin of the human species.

  5. antonette
    philippines
    May 4, 2011, 1:45 am

    weird animals really….

  6. normita deleon
    philippines
    May 3, 2011, 1:00 pm

    English: why there is an existence of such creature like this?
    Science: What is their essence of existence?
    Math: How many creatures will exist like this 1?
    History: Is there any related existence like this in the year B.C?
    Filipino: San sila matatagpuan at bakit?
    Character Education: How to take care of naked animal?

  7. Christine Dell'Amore
    May 3, 2011, 10:01 am

    Hi everyone, thank you for your comments about this blog post. Many of you asked how you can help the penguins. Here is a link to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s website that may be of interest: http://bit.ly/jdnujG. Cheers, Christine.

  8. bikk
    billy
    May 3, 2011, 9:37 am

    hi

  9. mr.peep
    shenfunga
    May 2, 2011, 2:00 pm

    omg why r all u guys obbesed with naked males and animals

  10. Joe Cheng
    Hong Kong
    May 1, 2011, 3:53 am

    woo….new creation by GOD, welcome you!!!!^^ you look so cute ha~ha~

  11. kunal jotwani
    india
    May 1, 2011, 2:04 am

    hey cant we help these animals

  12. Doris
    China
    April 30, 2011, 10:50 pm

    wow!Aren’t they tiny and so sweet?

  13. julz bohr
    philippines
    April 30, 2011, 8:19 pm

    its getting hot in here so they’ll gonna take their hairs off..haha

  14. olivia
    United states
    April 30, 2011, 5:17 pm

    An animal is a animal so why can’t you people realize that they are God’s creation so we should appreciate them.

  15. Carolyn
    Wisconsin
    April 30, 2011, 3:51 pm

    Those animals need proper care! I love animals, and I don’t want to see them die if they can’t survive! They’re God’s creation and should be cared for. We as people should help out by picking up litter! HELP THESE BEAUTIFUL ANIMALS! GOD MADE THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. tommy ringgit janting
    malaysia
    April 30, 2011, 9:49 am

    it sad to see those hairless or naked animals…but anyhow they’re GOD beautiful creation…

  17. zhang
    china
    April 30, 2011, 8:45 am

    will they die without plumage?

  18. rabnawaz
    pakistan
    April 30, 2011, 4:13 am

    i love this Magellanic penguin… choooo cute…

  19. ibnul huda
    guwahati, assam(INDIA)
    April 30, 2011, 3:09 am

    can we help these cute birds to regain the lost feathers .
    is anyone doing any research on the subject? wish I could
    do something for them.

  20. Nina Kirana
    Indonesia
    April 29, 2011, 6:53 pm

    So cute and soft. I think it is an icecream. Somebody please help him with a warm blanket ……. :)

  21. surajit bhattacharjee
    st.petersburg,russia
    April 29, 2011, 4:51 pm

    human beings are the only species which takes off the skin or hair of animals to sell it for money and others r buying it to show how wealthy they are.
    shame of them………..

  22. tina s webb
    knoxville tennessee
    April 29, 2011, 4:33 pm

    bacteria caused from pollutantics in the oceans getting into the fish = equals hit and miss with the schools of fish and the penguins eating them building up in their systems = pathogens in the penguins food supply. If the eggs were deformed this would equal bad genes from depletion of the penguins groups.

  23. Acharya Arun Kanpuri
    INDIA
    April 29, 2011, 1:23 pm

    Your Story is very philosophical. So, every body are naked…!
    How we are feel this truth? Relay, truth is always naked.
    Congratulations for this story…

  24. Evelynn
    INDIA!
    April 29, 2011, 12:38 pm

    i tink dat des animales es vedy purdy! :D dey es vedy intesting, nd id lick toh lern mo.

  25. Kris
    elven village hehe
    April 29, 2011, 12:18 pm

    what about sphynx cats ? there naked to :)

  26. ries
    freetown
    April 29, 2011, 12:11 pm

    poor thing.. look how human disturb the environment. Human are not intellegent for me since they are destroying what they really need it to survive. Human invade the univers like pest eating and killing its own env’r with out knowing the consequence. in doing so the balance is lost for ever.
    Now we are in desert and everything is naked…

  27. Jagruti
    INDIA
    April 29, 2011, 11:21 am

    The fact is hairless animals are part of the earth.. just like us. so we welcomes you…. :-)

  28. rohit
    jabalpur
    April 29, 2011, 10:49 am

    really…………………

  29. Hamedov
    Turkey
    April 29, 2011, 8:58 am

    Great I Love naked thing

  30. Taki Nelufule
    Skukuza. South Africa
    April 29, 2011, 8:47 am

    so unique and cute. unlike the ordinary feathers and hairs

  31. zafarshah
    pakistan
    April 29, 2011, 7:52 am

    i love this animals…………………………….

  32. Gaines Bishop
    April 29, 2011, 7:24 am

    Think we might be poisoning the earth? Ya think?

  33. IRFAN
    pakistan
    April 29, 2011, 6:36 am

    hmmm ……..!!!!!!!!!
    nice

  34. Majid
    pakistan
    April 29, 2011, 6:19 am

    i like dat………..

  35. Suleman
    London
    April 29, 2011, 6:16 am

    WOW

  36. olivia
    lebanon
    April 29, 2011, 5:56 am

    at first these animals make me sick but i’ve realised that humains r the main cause. we r weird not animals …….or simply these symptons may results due a genetic problems such as mutations…….

  37. Ari
    72
    April 29, 2011, 5:48 am

    Is that some kind of genetic mutation ? if compare with human, is that the opposite case with werewolf ?

  38. Anthony
    Moncada, Tarlac
    April 29, 2011, 4:54 am

    hm, nice its interesting to know more about nature, and they’re kinda cute lol

  39. Serabi1000
    Johannesburg, South Africa
    April 29, 2011, 3:41 am

    This is terrible, more so because these chicks cannot survive. This might sound callous but it would be better if these chicks are left to die.

    If animals evolve to be naturally hairless, it is acceptable.

  40. Irma
    Nederland
    April 29, 2011, 1:11 am

    Creepy but we are naked too!

  41. davy ubani
    nigeria
    April 29, 2011, 12:49 am

    i tink dey re bored of dere panda-like feather,dey want dere own peculiarity

  42. manish
    India
    April 28, 2011, 11:42 pm

    weird or beautiful …………. it lies in the eyes of beholder :)

  43. Victoria
    BC
    April 28, 2011, 11:32 pm

    Once again, this feels like an incomplete article. We are given a lot of these from NG these days. It’s obvious everyone is going to want to know a bit more about the penguins and their survival. You can’t say that babies are being born without protection without telling us what happens to them – good or bad.

    And I agree with the other posters… healthy hair loss mixed with illness causing hair loss without linking them through reasons, evolution or what have you, leaves the reader feeling unsatisfied.

  44. kali
    nsw nimbin
    April 28, 2011, 11:10 pm

    disgusting and completely fugly

  45. Elisabeth Carponi
    Grèce
    April 28, 2011, 11:03 pm

    il est si petit !

  46. M.usman
    pakistan
    April 28, 2011, 10:14 pm

    Naked is sooooooooo cute.

  47. Candice
    April 28, 2011, 9:38 pm

    Interesting article, but I would have loved a more in depth look at a hypothesis for why this is occurring.

  48. Dawn Abbott
    Idaho
    April 28, 2011, 9:38 pm

    I don’t understand why this article seems to be relating naturally healthy hairless animals with animals that are sick and hairless. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to have this article talk about the sad state of our environment that could be causing these baby penguins to loose their feathers? And how not having feathers or normal weight (as mentioned in this article) could be detrimental to their survival. I feel like this article was off the mark.

  49. ATON-MOSES
    CHILE-TALCA
    April 28, 2011, 9:31 pm

    Hola : tengo una experiencia de a ver visto a un animal muy extraño. en un lugar cordillerano en la Argentina.
    Estuve meditando por varios días y se me cruzo varias veces, salia solo de noche y cuando llegue al lugar vi varios animales muertos.
    Mi idea es volver para sacar fotos y filmar. durante la noche. Yo fuI en Enero del año 2008. gracias.

  50. Ramona Balutescu
    Romania
    April 28, 2011, 9:28 pm

    Nice you are interesten in our hens. :)
    What happens with the little penguins? Can they survive?…

  51. nicole
    usa
    April 28, 2011, 9:11 pm

    what do they do with the naked penguins, etc?

  52. Shiianne
    April 28, 2011, 9:04 pm

    That penguin is so cute. :)

    Ah, it’s interesting reading about this stuff!

  53. carlota capuz
    philippines
    April 28, 2011, 8:57 pm

    maybe…they are trying to adapt the current global warming! feeling so hot that they just want to go nakeeee! i hate global warming!

  54. joseph
    cebu
    April 28, 2011, 8:55 pm

    lmao.. so humans are weird?

  55. Blah
    United States
    April 28, 2011, 8:51 pm

    I thing they look nice :)

  56. Thami
    south africa
    April 28, 2011, 8:48 pm

    weird indeed,it’s true that the world we live in is really evolving

  57. saima
    pakistan
    April 28, 2011, 2:23 pm

    naked animals are really weird