Beautiful plumage

Oscar and I were driving home from school on Monday night, and got onto the ever fascinating topic (for small boys) of bodily hair.

He wanted to know, quite rightly, how come when men get older they get plumes of ear hair.

I was unable to answer this question satisfactorily I am afraid.

He also wanted to know why women do not get plumes of ear hair.

I said this was because women already had enough to contend with when they’re older because they start growing beards and moustaches, and it wouldn’t be fair to have ear hair as well.

He seemed pleased with this answer.

We also discussed how come hair knows when to stop growing.  We came up with no suitable answers as to why the hair on your head grows like billio, while, say, the hairs on your legs don’t keep pouring down your trouser leg and onto the floor.

Oscar is not anti ear hair – by the way.

He and Tallulah have a small obsessive sideline in ears at the moment.  Sometimes I will catch them in the back of the car stroking each other’s ear lobes (because it’s very comforting mama).

They inspect the ears of others with a silent ferociousness that descends into deep debate on shape, texture, ear hair volume etc, when they are en famille.

It is fair to say that they are devoted to the ear as an organ.  It would not surprise me were they to come up with some kind of equivalent to phrenology (the reading of head bumps in order to chart the personality), for ears.

Oscar is quite jealous of the ear hair of others.

He doesn’t want to wait to get his when he is old.

Nor does he want it to stop growing once it has appeared.

I know this, because after our discussion, and when he had thought about things for a bit (he does like to ponder life’s great mysteries), he said:

‘Mama. I should like my ear hair to grow and grow, in big clouds out of the side of my head.  Then I can sculpt it into different scenes, cut it off and give it to my friends.’



2 responses to “Beautiful plumage

  1. A scientist writes: It is generally thought that men develop more ear and nose hair as they age because of some effect of falling testosterone levels. This is also why they go bald and why women develop moustaches; it is suggested too that it is why men’s ears and noses get bigger in old age, but I think that is still open to debate. It is also why boys and girls don’t develop body hair until puberty — there aren’t enough sex hormones to stimulate it/switch on the appropriate genes. It is very complex relationships between testosterone and other hormones which I think is not yet fully understood.
    However I don’t know why head hair grows long and leg hair doesn’t. It is probably something to do with particular genes being switched on/off in that part of the body and the effect they have on the regulation of the hair follicles — and yes your cells do know (through which genes are active) where they are in the body/what type of tissue they are. (This is why you can’t use skin cells, say, to regenerate a liver but have to go back to the “native” state of stem cells which haven’t been (fully) differentiated.).
    It is all going to be genetically inherited as body hairiness does run in families and there some surprising outliers of extreme hairiness (or lack thereof).

  2. Thanks Keith.

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