hair length as a character

Don.Colless at CSIRO.AU Don.Colless at CSIRO.AU
Tue Jan 11 13:21:28 CST 2005

John: I would suggest that a character is just a set of features that differ over the set of items being studied. If some have long head hair and short body hair, and others have various combinations of those attributes, then you have TWO perfectly good characters (head hair length and body hair length). If of course long always went with long and short always with short, you would have just one character (hair length, simpliciter). I'm not aware of the full details so can't comment on humans and orang hutan. 

And, by the way, the latter is a very "doggy" Malay name. The Dayak "maias" is much nicer, and given by folk who actually live with the animal! Indeed, Wallace, who brought the creature to Western attention, preferred that name and used it consistently (albeit as "mias"). 

Don Colless,
Div of Entomology, CSIRO,
GPO Box 1700,
Canberra. 2601.
Email: don.colless at
Tuz li munz est miens envirun

-----Original Message-----
From:   Taxacom Discussion List on behalf of John Grehan
Sent:   Tue 1/11/2005 5:20 AM
Subject:             hair length as a character
I wonder if any of the systematics experts on the list could add
anything to the question of hair length as a character with respect to
Ken's observation that:

>       On the other hand you combine hair length into a single
> If you split it into a body hair character and a head hair character,
> wouldn't favor an orangutan-hominid clade at all.  

I did some further thinking about this (it's good to think now and
then!) and what I settled on was that if I were interested in hair
length as a character in of itself rather than where it occurred, then I
could treat it that way. If one were more interested in location of hair
as a character then one could do that. Is it just a matter of different
choices of what is the character (hair as a character with long/short as
character states, versus head or body as a character and hair length as
a character state) or could I be missing something? 

I still think the hair length as a character is valid since it is a fact
that humans and orangutans have the longest hair of any primate. Perhaps
a comparable situation is genital swelling. Orangutans and humans are
unique among apes in lacking genital swelling during the menstrual
cycle, while orangutans are unique (I think) in having swelling during
pregnancy. If one were just to focus on the presence or absence of
genital swelling irrespective of occurrence then humans and orangutans
would not fall together as humans do not exhibit that feature in either
condition and orangutans would be lumped together with chimps and
gorillas which have genital swelling only during the menstrual cycle.

John Grehan 

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