Back in the day, we were friends with a Vizsla person who, in her “everyday life,” was a brilliant cancer research scientist.
She happened to be a redhead.
The color of one’s hair isn’t usually a topic of discussion between friends, and in all the time we knew her, the fact that her hair was red (and ours wasn’t) never came up. Well, except for one time.
Our friend had just returned from a professional trip to Japan, and she had developed a deep affection for the country and its people. There were, of course, cultural differences which she found charming…….
……….except for when she was on elevators. You know, the boxes that goes up and down in tall buildings?
Things may be different now, but at the time, our friend’s naturally red hair was not just rare in Japan, it was something most people had never seen. As she put it, people on elevators gazed upon her as if she had a horn growing out of her forehead. She understood the interest, but it was still disconcerting to her.
We were reminded of our red headed friend when we spotted the following headline earlier today: “Redheads aren’t going extinct. Here’s why.“
We hadn’t know that the hair color was even at risk, and given that there are dog breed standards that include red as an accepted color, the headline piqued our interest.
Some background information is helpful at this point, we think.
Of the entire human race, fewer than 2% has red hair.. Redheads have less hair than people with other hair color (90,000 strands compared with the average of 110,000 strands that blondes have, and a brunette’s 140,000 strands), but the individual strands of hair on a redhead are thicker, and the hair color keeps its pigment longer than other hair colors. Redheads sense temperature changes quicker, and most require 20% more anesthesia for a surgery. They also attract bees more than other hair colors (but a mutation in the MC1R gene that controls a redhead’s hair color also controls pain response, so reds might be less sensitive to a bee sting – or even injections). Redheads are more apt to be left-handed, and if a ginger has blue eyes, they might as well have a horn growing out of their forehead because fewer than a million people have an exceptionally rare combination of red hair and blue eye.
For some reason, we never think of prehistoric man as being a ginger, but it’s a trait that goes back to prehistory. Analysis of 50,000-year-old DNA has proved that some Neanderthals were actually fair skinned redheads. Admittedly, gene variants behind the hair color are rare, but redheads aren’t going anywhere even though gene variants of the hair color involved are recessive which means that both mom and dad have to be gingers to be certain their offspring will have red hair, too. As writer, Jacky Colliss Harvey, puts it, “In the great genetic card game, red hair is the two of clubs. It is trumped by every other card in the pack,” and this includes dogs.
There are two basic pigments that determine the color of canines: eumelanin (black) and phaeomelanin (red). Phaeomelanin is a red pigment with yellow or gold as the default color, and it is responsible for creating reds that range from the stunning color of an Irish Setter, to the orange, cream, gold, yellow, or tan seen in other breeds. As an aside, it is Phaeomelanin that is responsible for freckles in humans!
We are fond of pointing out that the history of dog breeds is closely tied to the history of the people who created it for a reason, and while the genetics of red hair may be different between the two species, we think readers will be interested to read more about why anyone ever thought redheaded people might go extinct – or not. Read that article here.
As for our post title, credit goes to Augusten Xon Burroughs, an American writer best known for his New York Times bestselling memoir, “Running with Scissors.” Burroughs wrote: “Red hair is great. It’s rare and therefore superior.”
Image: Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever by L.A.Shepard