Men, muscles and noses (and why the Dong has a luminous nose)

A new study suggests that men have larger noses than women because they have greater muscle mass to supply with oxygen. That is also possibly why archaic humans with greater muscle mass than modern humans also had larger noses.

Nathan E. Holton, Todd R. Yokley, Andrew W. Froehle, Thomas E. Southard, Ontogenetic scaling of the human nose in a longitudinal sample: Implications for genusHomofacial evolutionAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2013; DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.22402 

The University of Iowa’s news release:

Human noses come in all shapes and sizes. But one feature seems to hold true: Men’s noses are bigger than women’s.

A new study from the University of Iowa concludes that men’s noses are about 10 percent larger than female noses, on average, in populations of European descent. The size difference, the researchers believe, comes from the sexes’ different builds and energy demands: Males in general have more lean muscle mass, which requires more oxygen for muscle tissue growth and maintenance. Larger noses mean more oxygen can be breathed in and transported in the blood to supply the muscle.

The researchers also note that males and females begin to show differences in nose size at around age 11, generally, when puberty starts. Physiologically speaking, males begin to grow more lean muscle mass from that time, while females grow more fat mass. Prior research has shown that, during puberty, approximately 95 percent of body weight gain in males comes from fat-free mass, compared to 85 percent in females. …. 

…. It also explains why our noses are smaller than those of our ancestors, such as the Neanderthals. The reason, the researchers believe, is because our distant lineages had more muscle mass, and so needed larger noses to maintain that muscle. Modern humans have less lean muscle mass, meaning we can get away with smaller noses.

“So, in humans, the nose can become small, because our bodies have smaller oxygen requirements than we see in archaic humans,” Holton says, noting also that the rib cages and lungs are smaller in modern humans, reinforcing the idea that we don’t need as much oxygen to feed our frames as our ancestors. “This all tells us physiologically how modern humans have changed from their ancestors.” ….

And by whatever strange associations that go on in my brain, Edward Lear’s explanation for how his heartbroken and stalwart Dong made himself a prosthetic, luminous nose (which I must have first read some 50 years ago) keeps going around in my head (extract from Edward Lear’s nonsense poem).

……. And those who watch at that midnight hour
From Hall or Terrace, or lofty Tower,
Cry, as the wild light passes along, —
            “The Dong! — the Dong!
      “The wandering Dong through the forest goes!
            “The Dong! the Dong!
      “The Dong with a luminous Nose!”
Playing a pipe with silvery squeaks,
      Since then his Jumbly Girl he seeks,
      And because by night he could not see,
      He gathered the bark of the Twangum Tree
            On the flowery plain that grows.
            And he wove him a wondrous Nose, —
      A Nose as strange as a Nose could be!
Of vast proportions and painted red,
And tied with cords to the back of his head.
      — In a hollow rounded space it ended
      With a luminous Lamp within suspended,
            All fenced about
            With a bandage stout
            To prevent the wind from blowing it out; —
      And with holes all round to send the light,
      In gleaming rays on the dismal night.
And all who watch at the midnight hour,
From Hall or Terrace, or lofty Tower,
Cry, as they trace the Meteor bright,
Moving along through the dreary night, —
      “This is the hour when forth he goes,
      “The Dong with a luminous Nose!
      “Yonder — over the plain he goes;
            “He goes!
            “He goes;
      “The Dong with a luminous Nose!”

The Dong was first published in 1846 and maybe Rudolph, who first appeared in a 1939 booklet written by Robert L. May, got his glowing red nose, in a similar way to the Dong.

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