naked apes: bug-free and sexy

Hairy humans just aren’t sexy, report British researchers in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters last week. That’s the reason why humans are hairless, instead of furry like almost all other mammals. The old theory of human hairlessness supposes that we lost our body hair to keep cool in hot climates, but Mark Pagel of the University of Reading and Walter Bodmer of Oxford University challenge that assumption. They believe humans became hairless to reduce the amount of disease-carrying parasites that live in fur and to enhance sexual attractiveness. Because humans could respond to their environment by producing shelters and clothing, hairlessness was both possible and desirable since clothing and shelters can be cleaned more easily than fur when infested with bugs. Pagel stated in a press release: “Hairlessness would have allowed humans to convincingly ‘advertise’ their reduced susceptibility to parasitic infection and this trait therefore became desirable in a mate.”

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 6/17/2003.
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