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Fur is the hair covering of non-human mammals, particularly those mammals with extensive body hair that is soft and thick. The stiffer bristles on animals such as pigs are not generally referred to as fur.

The term pelage – first known use in English c. 1828 – (French, from Middle French, from poil hair, from Old French peilss, from Latin pilus,[1]) is sometimes used to refer to the body hair of an animal as a complete coat. Fur is also used to refer to animal pelts which have been processed into leather with the hair still attached. The words fur or furry are also used, more casually, to refer to hair-like growths or formations, particularly when the subject being referred to exhibits a dense coat of fine, soft "hairs". If layered, rather than grown as a single coat, it may consist of short down hairs, long guard hairs, and in some cases, medium awn hairs. Mammals with reduced amounts of fur are often called "naked", as with the naked mole-rat, or "hairless", as with hairless dogs.

An animal with commercially valuable fur is known within the fur industry as a furbearer.[2] The use of fur as clothing or decoration is considered controversial by some people: most animal welfare advocates object to the trapping and killing of wildlife, and to the confinement and killing of animals on fur farms.

Opossum fur
Opossum fur


Fur clothing was first worn during the fourteenth to seventh century and is a symbolic garment in European History. The kings and queens of England ordered proclamations to regulate fur aka “sumptuary legislation”.[3] Sumptuary legislation established the stigmatism of fur being limited to the higher social statuses and convey the idea of exclusivity. Exotic furs such as fox, marten, grey squirrel and ermine were reserved for aristocratic elites. The middle class were known to wear fox, hare and beaver while the less fortunate wore goat, wolf and sheepskin. Due to clothing being loose and garments were known to be layered, fur was primarily used for visible linings. Different kinds of fur were worn during seasons and social classes. Animals with fur decreased in West Europe and began to be imported from the Middle East and Russia.[4]

As new kinds of fur entered Europe, other uses were made with fur other than clothing. Beaver was most desired but used to make hats which became a popular headpiece especially during the wartime. Swedish soldiers wore broad-brimmed hats made exclusively from beaver felt. Due to the limitations of beaver fur, hat-makers relied heavily on North America for imports as beaver was only available in the Scandinavian peninsula.[5]

Other than the military, fur has been used for accessories such as hats, hoods, scarves, and muffs. Design elements including the visuals of the animal were considered acceptable with heads, tails and paws still being kept on the accessories. During the ninetieth century, seal and karakul were made into indoor jackets. The twentieth century was the beginning of the fur coats being fashionable in West Europe with full fur coats. With lifestyle changes as a result of developments like indoor heating, the international textile trade affected how fur was distributed around the world. Europeans focused on using local resources giving fur association with femininity with the increasing use of mink. In 1970, Germany was the world’s largest fur market. The International Fur Trade Federation banned endangering species furs like silk monkey, ocelot, leopard, tiger, and polar bear in 1975. The use of animal skins were brought to light during the 1980s by animal right organisations and the demand for fur decreased. Anti-fur organisations raised awareness of the controversy between animal welfare and fashion. Fur farming became banned in Britain in 1999. During the twenty-first century, fox and mink have been bred in captivity with Denmark, Holland and Finland being leaders of mink production. [6]


Down Awn and guard hairs of cat 2012 11 13 9203r
Down, awn and guard hairs of a domestic tabby cat

Fur usually consists of two main layers:

  • Down hair (known also as undercoat or ground hair) — the bottom layer consisting of wool hairs, usually wavy or curly without straight portions or sharp points; down hairs tend to be shorter, flat, curly, and more numerous than the top layer. Its principal function is thermoregulation; it maintains a layer of dry air next to the skin and repels water, thus providing thermal insulation.
  • Guard hair — the top layer consisting of longer, generally coarser, nearly straight shafts of hair that protrude through the down hair layer. The distal ends of the guard hairs provide the externally visible layer of the coat of most mammals with well-developed fur. This layer of the coat displays the most marked pigmentation and gloss, including coat patterns adapted to display or camouflage. It is also adapted to repelling water and blocking sunlight, protecting the undercoat and skin from external factors such as rain, ultraviolet radiation, and injuries such as cuts and abrasions. Many animals, such as domestic cats, erect their guard hairs as part of their threat display when agitated.

Mammals with well-developed down and guard hairs also usually have large numbers of awn hairs. These begin their growth much as guard hairs do, but change their mode of growth, usually when less than half the length of the hair has emerged. This portion of the hair is called awn. The rest of the growth is thin and wavy, much like down hair. In many species of mammals, the awn hairs comprise the bulk of the visible coat. The proximal part of the awn hair shares the function of the down hairs, whereas the distal part aids the water-shedding function of the guard hairs, though their thin basal portion prevents their being erected like true guard hairs.

Wet Fur - CGI
Computer-generated wet fur

The modern fur arrangement is known to have occurred as far back as docodonts, haramiyidans and eutriconodonts, with Castorocauda, Megaconus and Spinolestes preserving compound follicles with guard hair and underfur.

Mammals without fur

Hair is one of the defining characteristics of mammals; however, several species or breeds have considerably reduced amounts of fur. These are often called "naked" or "hairless".

Natural selection

Some mammals naturally have reduced amounts of fur. Some semiaquatic or aquatic mammals such as cetaceans, pinnipeds and hippopotamuses have evolved hairlessness, presumably to reduce resistance through water. The naked mole-rat has evolved hairlessness, perhaps as an adaptation to their subterranean life-style. Two of the largest extant mammals, the elephant and the rhinoceros, are largely hairless. The hairless bat is mostly hairless but does have short bristly hairs around its neck, on its front toes, and around the throat sac, along with fine hairs on the head and tail membrane. Most hairless animals cannot go in the sun for long periods of time, or stay in the cold for too long. [7]

Humans are the only primate species that have undergone significant hair loss. The hairlessness of humans compared to related species may be due to loss of functionality in the pseudogene KRTHAP1 (which helps produce keratin) in the human lineage about 240,000 years ago.[8] Mutations in the gene HR can lead to complete hair loss, though this is not typical in humans.[9]

Sheep have not become hairless; however, their pelage is usually referred to as "wool" rather than fur.

Artificial selection

At times, when a hairless domesticated animal is discovered, usually owing to a naturally occurring genetic mutation, humans may intentionally inbreed those hairless individuals and, after multiple generations, artificially create breeds that are hairless. There are several breeds of hairless cats, perhaps the most commonly known being the Sphynx cat. Similarly, there are several breeds of hairless dogs. Other examples of artificially selected hairless animals include the hairless guinea-pig, nude mouse, and the hairless rat.

Use in clothing

Carl Eielson
Carl Ben Eielson, US Pilot and Arctic explorator wearing a seal fur coat

In clothing, fur is usually leather with the hair retained for its aesthetic and insulating properties. Fur has long served as a source of clothing for humans, including Neanderthals. Animal furs used in garments and trim may be dyed bright colors or to mimic exotic animal patterns, or shorn down to imitate the feel of a soft velvet fabric. The term "a fur" is often used to refer to a fur coat, wrap, or shawl.

Usual animal sources for fur clothing and fur trimmed accessories include fox, rabbit, mink, beavers, ermine, otters, sable, seals, coyotes, chinchilla, raccoon, and possum. The import and sale of seal products was banned in the U.S. in 1972 over conservation concerns about Canadian seals. The import and sale is still banned even though the Marine Animal Response Society estimates the harp seal population is thriving at approximately 8 million.[10] The import, export and sales of domesticated cat and dog fur were also banned in the U.S. under the Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000.[11]

The manufacturing of fur clothing involves obtaining animal pelts where the hair is left on the animal's processed skin. In contrast, making leather involves removing the hair from the hide or pelt and using only the skin. The use of wool involves shearing the animal's fleece from the living animal, so that the wool can be regrown but sheepskin shearling is made by retaining the fleece to the leather and shearing it.[12] Shearling is used for boots, jackets and coats and is probably the most common type of skin worn.

Fur is also used to make felt. A common felt is made from beaver fur and is used in high-end cowboy hats.[13]


Fur redfox
Red fox furs

Most animal rights activists are opposed to the trapping and killing of wildlife, and the confinement and killing of animals on fur farms. According to Humane Society International, over 8 million animals are trapped yearly for fur, while more than 30 million were raised in fur farms.[14]

According to Statistics Canada, 2.6 million fur-bearing animals raised on farms were killed in 2010. Another 700,000 were killed for fur by traps.[15][16]

See also


  1. ^ "Pelage". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved January 9, 2013.
  2. ^ Peterson, Judy Monroe (2011-01-15). Varmint Hunting. The Rosen Publishing Group. ISBN 9781448823666.
  3. ^ "Savannah College of Art and Design". 0-www.bloomsburyfashioncentral.com.library.scad.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
  4. ^ "Savannah College of Art and Design". 0-www.bloomsburyfashioncentral.com.library.scad.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
  5. ^ "Savannah College of Art and Design". 0-www.bloomsburyfashioncentral.com.library.scad.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
  6. ^ "Savannah College of Art and Design". 0-www.bloomsburyfashioncentral.com.library.scad.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
  7. ^ Thomson, Paul (2002). "Cheiromeles torquatus". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  8. ^ Winter, H.; Langbein, L.; Krawczak, M.; Cooper, D. N.; Jave-Suarez, L. F.; Rogers, M. A.; Praetzel, S.; Heidt, P. J.; Schweizer, J. (2001). "Human type I hair keratin pseudogene phihHaA has functional orthologs in the chimpanzee and gorilla: Evidence for recent inactivation of the human gene after the Pan-Homo divergence". Human Genetics. 108 (1): 37–42. doi:10.1007/s004390000439. PMID 11214905.
  9. ^ "Molecular evolution of HR, a gene that regulates the postnatal cycle of the hair follicle". Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  10. ^ "Harp Seal", Marine Animal Response Society.
  11. ^ Rules and Regulations Under the Fur Products Labeling Act Archived 2008-07-24 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ Australian Wool Corporation, Australian Wool Classing, Raw Wool Services, 1990.
  13. ^ Chamber's journal, Published by Orr and Smith, 1952, pg 200, Original from the University of Michigan.
  14. ^ Humane Society International Fur Trade
  15. ^ "Fur production, by province and territory"
  16. ^ The fur industry. Peta, n.d.

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