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Why is a mane important to horses and lions?
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Why is a mane important to horses and lions?

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Mane men

Several animals grow hair on their necks, called manes. The word comes from much older words like manu, mano and mon that also mean "neck."

Horses have manes. So do giraffes. Male lions are famous for their manes. But why do these different animals all need hairy necks?

One idea is that horses need manes to help keep their long necks warm. This seems to make sense, but some old horse breeds didn’t have manes. Maybe they lived where it was warm enough.

A hairy neck may also help protect them from other animals that attack by biting the back of the neck. Mountain lions will sometimes attack their prey like this, jumping down onto their victims from a tree or rock.

Another idea is that male lions have manes to attract females. A healthy mane, like a well-styled head of hair, may be just the ticket to get a female interested. In the 1970s, many men considered a big hairdo as a way to please females, and entire bands were known as “hair bands” for their long manes.

A hairy neck may also protect the animal from biting flies and other bugs. Anyone who has spent time swatting off flies and mosquitoes knows that protection from bugs is a good thing.

Other animals that have manes include zebras, which have bristly manes, as if they were cut off to stand straight up, and the lion-tailed macaque, an unusual monkey with a silvery mane. Wildebeests, also called gnus, have bristly manes.

Now that winter is here, having long hair to keep your neck warm sounds like a good idea. Anything to keep the cold away seems helpful.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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