Big Words of the Month: Alopecia and Depilation

Alopecia and depilation are big words that refer to hair loss. Depliation is the intentional removal of hair using mechanical or chemical means, while alopecia refers to hair loss due to physiological processes. During the spring and summer there is a lot of hair loss going on at the museum . Many wild animals shed out of a winter coat into a sleeker, cooler summer coat. Our red wolves are transitioning from thick coat to a thin coat and can look like they have lost a lot of weight. The black bears at the museum also shed a lot in the late spring and summer and can look shaggy for a while.

Many of our domesticated species in the farmyard need a little help getting rid of their hair for the summer. The donkey gets regular brushing but you still may notice some patches of longer hair that are slow to come out. The most dramatic hair loss at the museum occurs with our yearly sheep shearing.
This year we were able to notify museum members ahead of time that our sheep shearing was going to take place on June 4th. By the time our sheep shearer, Will Byrd, arrived a crowd was gathered at the barn to witness the event. Sheep shearers use electric clippers that operate on the same principle as barber’s tools but have much larger blades. Removing a sheep’s wool quickly and safely takes a great deal of skill, strength and patience. Will manages all this while also providing interesting commentary to the crowd!

This year our five sheep yielded around 40 pounds of wool. Keeper Jill is barely able to hoist the bags up on the scale. The wool from our sheep is not of spinning quality for making cloth but it doesn’t go to waste. Some folks took home wool samples as souvenirs. We keep the rest of the wool to use throughout the year for animal enrichment. For some animals the texture of the wool is interesting and it has a very distinctive smell that is due in part to the lanolin.
If you weren’t able to see our sheep shearing you can see some highlights in the video below. You can see more clips from the Museum of Life and Science on our YouTube channel.

1 responses to Big Words of the Month: Alopecia and Depilation

  1. ErinH says:

    I missed the live shearing so I am glad you posted a video of it. Thanks! It’s amazing how still the sheep seem to stay during the process.

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