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Human Whisker Under the Microscope

Human Whisker

The medulla appears absent on the left but is visible on the right in this section of the whisker. The plane of focus here is at the cuticle of the hair.

Transmitted Oblique Circular Polarize Light


Mammalian hair is composed of a protein, keratin. It is the same protein that makes horn, fingernails, claws, skin epithelium, and dander. Mammalian hair consists of three distinct morphological units, the cuticle, the cortex and the medulla. The distinctive pattern shown by these units varies over the length of the hair in a way that can be very characteristic. The patterns exhibited by these units in any given hair are often sufficient to identify the genus, the species, or even the individual that the hair came from.

Significance in the Environment:

Characteristic Features:

Human whiskers tend to be ribbon to elliptical in cross-section. The scale count may be from 8 to 15 per hundred micrometers. The major axis of the cross-section may be in excess of 120 micrometers. The medulla may be 3/4 of the width but generally is around 1/3 or less. The medulla may not be easily discernible or appear intermittent but will be evident under polarized light. Pigment bodies and areole vesicles may be present.

Associated Particles:


References with Photographs and/or Drawings

Hausman, Leon Augustus, "Structural charactreistics of the hair of mammals", THE AMERICAN NATURALIST, vol. 54, no. 635, pp.496-523,

Hausman, Leon Augustus, "Recent studies of hair structure relationships", THE SCIENTIFIC MONTHLY, pp. 258-277,

Glaister, John, A STUDY OF HAIRS AND WOOLS, Misr Press, Cairo, 1931.

FBI site for Animal Hair Identification:

Keys Only

Mayer, William V., "The hair of California mammals with keys to the dorsal guard hairs of California mammals", THE AMERICAN MIDLAND NATURALIST, vol. 48, no. 2, pp. 480-512, 1952.

Stains, Howard J., "Field key to guard hair of middle western furbearers", JOURNAL OF WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT, vol. 22, no.1, pp. 95-97, January, 1958.

Mathiak, Harold A., "A key to hairs of the mammals of southern Michigan", JOURNAL OF WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 251-268, October, 1938.