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Do Fish Have Hair?

Currently, there are over 33000 known fish species, so it’s no surprise that they come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures. These marvelous creatures have been around for thousands of years, adapting to a variety of climates and environments, and indeed, surviving great ecological changes throughout history. But have you ever stopped to think, how much do we really know about fish? From the freshwater shallows to the depths of the ocean, there’s always something new to learn.

Puzzling over this question has led me to look at some specifics, which is how I ended up asking myself: do fish have hair? Granted, it doesn’t make much sense to have hair or fur when you live underwater, but I was amazed to find that I definitely wasn’t the first person to query this particular conundrum. And what I learned was more interesting than I ever would have expected.

In this post, I’ll answer the question of whether fish have hair by looking at both what legend and scientific study have revealed over time. This includes an investigation into the famous fur-bearing trout, as well as a look at species with hair-like spines. Read on to find out more.

Do Fish Have Hair?

Fish do not have hair or fur. Instead, they have scales or spines. That being said, many people believe in the existence of the legendary fur-bearing trout, said to have adapted to freezing climates by growing fur over its scales. Since the late 17th century, this creature has existed in both Icelandic and American folklore. However, there is no scientific basis to prove that the fur-bearing trout exists in reality.

The story behind the legend of the fur-bearing trout is a funny one. In 1929, a magazine entitled Montana Wildlife published a piece in which this so-called hairy fish was described as having the body and facial features of a standard trout, but with a thick, white fur covering its body, barring its head and the tips of its tail. Shortly thereafter, a specimen found its way to the Royal Museum of Scotland. It later turned out that the taxidermy fish was a hoax.

Ross C. Jobe, a taxidermy specialist, had convincingly attached the fur of a white rabbit to a standard river trout. In fact, he did such a good job that it was difficult to tell if the animal was real or fake. While we now know that the fur-bearing trout does not exist, there have been instances in which trout have contracted a disease known as cotton mold, which gives off the appearance of white fur-like growths on the skin. This may account for the legend.

Where Can You Find The Fur-Bearing Trout?

According to folklore, the fur-bearing trout is most commonly found in freezing cold waters, specifically in Iceland, northern North America, and the Arkansas River. In both American and Icelandic legends, they adapted to grow fur as a means to keep themselves warm in extremely cold climates. In terms of how they came to be, there are slight differences in the stories told by each culture.

The American legend states that the fur-bearing trout results from several bottles of hair tonic spilled into the Arkansas River. Undeniably a tall tale, the more likely origin of the myth is a letter written by a Scottish immigrant (during the 17th century) in which he details “furry” fish abundant in the New World. Allegedly, he followed up his letter by sending a specimen home to be studied, although this cannot be verified. It is said that to lure a fur-bearing trout, one need only pretend to be a barber and offer them a shave.

In Icelandic legend, the fur-bearing trout goes by the name “Lodsilungur” and was supposedly created by demons. It is inedible and poisonous and was sent to lurk in the cold Icelandic waters as punishment for humans behaving wickedly. Also called the “shaggy trout,” the Lodsilungur was first described in an 1855 publication in the newspaper Nodri. The fur-bearing trout of Iceland is brown and red rather than white.

Does The Fluffy Sculpin Fish Have Actual Hair?

The fluffy sculpin, also known as the lizard fish, is a small species of predatory fish endemic to the Pacific Ocean, specifically the area ranging from Alaska to Mexico. While this fish does not have actual hair, it does possess soft rays and spines that resemble fine hairs when it moves. These fish also have a multitude of cirri (hair-like structures) covering their spines and heads.

Cirri, which are the closest appendages to hair found on fish, are tendril-like filament tufts that adorn the bodies of certain fish species. These are not hairs as we understand human hair, but instead, they are more like exceptionally tiny and weak tentacles. Most often, they serve the purpose of detecting various sensations during movement and hunting. They are also helpful for camouflage.

So, while the fluffy sculpin does not have actual hair, it may appear as though it does when it moves underwater. A similar phenomenon can be observed in the hairy frogfish. This animal is covered in tiny delicate spines that move much like curly hair would in a pool or bath. If you look quickly, it’s easy to mistake these appendages for hair or fur.

Conclusion

It’s certainly fun to believe that furry fish are lurking in the depths of the ocean, but unfortunately, this has not been scientifically proven as yet. Instead, we have a situation where myth is very likely bolstered by the presence of infections like cotton mold, and before we know it, the imaginations of humans have run wild. That being said, spines, rays, and cirri have created the illusion of hairy fish, and while this is not human hair, it’s easy to see why it could be mistaken as such.