Critter Cleanup

Shall we talk dirty . . . about animal hair?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet Guillermo Amador and David Hu, of Georgia Tech. They studied twenty-seven different mammals and insects to see how each maintains a suave appearance. First, the duo calculated the number of hairs for each creature.

That’s because the hairier the creature, the greater the total surface area to keep clean. Hair increases an animals’ surface area about one-hundred times! Like, a honeybee has three million hairs. So the true surface area it has to groom? The size of a piece of toast! That’s a lot to keep clean. How do critters do it?

Amador and Hu identified two different techniques that animals use to groom themselves.

Some exert energy to keep clean. For example, dogs shake themselves. Bees use their bristled legs to brush pollen away. Other animals get help from the environment. For example, wind is redirected by eyelashes so it blows things away from the eyes.

The only creature in nature who doesn’t self-clean? Human teenagers. Or at least that’s a theory of mine.