Xeni, I Think We're Going to Need a Bigger Unicorn

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.

I am so sorry.

I ran across this image while searching for something to illustrate that last post and just can't not share it.

Again. My apologies. Rest assured, I'm going to have nightmares tonight, too. We're all in this together.

So that? Is a hairless chimpanzee. According to RedEyedRex, the Flickr user who took the picture, it lives at the Mysore Zoo in India. Its hobbies (presumably) include eating various fruits and making humans feel deeply uncomfortable.



  1. Teller,

    I know what you’re saying. After I got over the initial retina searing, my next thought was, “Wow, that chimp’s got some guns!”

  2. A coworker was wondering if we can get the chimp some clothes? A nice pants suit, something warm.

  3. Think how humans look to every other animal.

    Makes me think about what we find attractive.

    I wonder what chimp aesthetics (at a human intelligence level) would look like…

  4. Yes. /deeply uncomfortable/. Right. What exactly is uncomfortable about an illustration that we are closely related to chimps. Hyperbolate in the search for profundity much?

    On the contrary I’m relieved. I first thought this was an old man with elephantitis or something. Then I realized “oh alright, it’s supposed to look like that. Mostly.”

  5. All I can think is that he needs some moisturizer. The idea has led to a train of thought that contains nothing but horrors of varying degrees.

  6. On a more personal note, Maggie, you are the quirkiest, funniest, and most interesting guest-BBer in a while. I hope you can come back after your stint is done and share more hilarity with us!

  7. It doesn’t have 30 legs, so it’s all good.

    Oh, wait: Actually, it looks a bit too much like my great uncle o_O

  8. The bonobos I have seen in various zoos, mainly the Milwaukee County Zoo, always seem less hairy than their chimpanzee counterparts. Their expressions and gestures are shockingly human.

  9. Kinda looks like Ed Asner on a bender. Not too disturbing, though.

    @#18 Thanks for linking to Cinder. Cute story.

    Maggie, thanks for some cool posts.

  10. Poor guy. The hair of chimpanzees stands up straight during displays of aggression, which helps with intimidation and ultimately with one’s spot in the society’s hierarchy.

  11. Ok. Hairless chimp. Waiting for the reason we’re supposed to need a unicorn chaser.

    Of course, unicorn chasers usually bug me more than the things they follow.

  12. He looks purple. My hopes that we would all become chocolate in the future may need to be revised.

  13. Breed with hairless female chimp, breed with human volunteers, could start a new species!

  14. … perhaps even more interesting than the post itself is the range of reactions in these comments.

    I’m curious about what presuppositions are stirred up in this.

    @11 anonymous : fer realz, this guy makes a great case for why clothes got invented (he looks chilly!).

    …also brings to mind Desmond Morris’ (author of The Naked Ape ) intriguing thesis that the reason that Homo Sap left it’s historically hairy nature in the evolutionary dust, (which he points out seems contraindicated from a pure individual survival perspective). Morris claims it’s because hairlessness favored the pro-reproductive path of rapid evolutionary acceleration that brought the species to its present state.

  15. I used to go see the hairless chimp at the St. Louis Zoo when I was a kid. She really freaked me out; I always thought she looked like a super-ripped old man.

  16. @28 paprnackin: My guess was going to be a Bonobo as well. While technically part of the Chimpanzee family, Bonobos usually have less hair than the “Common” Chimp, more frequently walk upright in the wild and have a society largely based on sex. Sex is used as a general greeting, a means of conflict resolution and just a plain ol’ good time, and can occur be between Bonobos of the opposite or same sex. Sounds familiar.


  17. If we do get unicorn chaser, please make sure it isn’t a furless unicorn. That would be a really nasty trick.

  18. I visited the Mysore zoo back in 2005, and what this picture doesn’t demonstrate is the strong sense of harried fear and anxiety that this chimp gives off. The other chimps were relaxing and staying cool in the 100+ degree heat, but this one was fidgeting and scampering around. The hairlessness was a little shocking at first, but it was the manic behavior that gave the experience an unsettling impact.

  19. To be honest, the only thing discomforting about that image for me is the startling resemblance to my grandfather. Shirtless, bald, big ears, sunburnt. The only thing missing is the cigarette.

    I am fascinated with the skin color. This is something I would not have guessed. I haven’t had a lot of close proximity with chimps so I don’t know if this is evident in normally-haired variants.

  20. I think the old dude looks nifty. It doesn’t look like he’s having such a fun time in that zoo though. And that makes me sad.

  21. That’s better than a unicorn. The similarities are made all the more astounding by the differences. We don’t inhabit some plane above the animals, we’re part of the whole thing. That’s awesome. Thanks for the reminder.

  22. @41 – how many animals do you think are happy being in a zoo? It’s not exactly a great place to spend your life.

  23. @#18 The disease is alopecia areata, which “is a highly unpredictable, autoimmune skin disease resulting in the loss of hair on the scalp and elsewhere on the body. This common but very challenging and capricious disease affects approximately 1.7 percent of the human population overall, including more than 4.7 million people in the United States alone” according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.

  24. #48 & #2. Yep. as has been amply documented we be the naked ape that figured out how to kill fur bearing animals to keep warm. That was what was wrong with the intro to the movie 2001. The apes that were learning to bash with clubs had fur. We are still using the same basic brain operating system. That is why I love the Boing Boing blog. On other Blogs the lurkers have emotional problems. Here the intellect is waiting to pounce. Much more fun. And healthier I may add.

  25. #10 fatal tourist.In A god you say-is that as “In
    God We Trust” as memorialized in Mammons specie?or
    perhaps a lesser god Janus revered by Washingtons
    political supplicants.The picture is quite poignant,disturbing even.Apparently simians suffer
    from alopecia.I’ve seen the cousins of that dejected creature sleeping over subway grates
    Rejection is not exclusive to Homo Sapiens.
    #22 Doug Rogers -Alopecia is not confined to man
    but in this case the condition is genetic in
    nature think hairless chihuahua.
    #30 Starcadia-That guy is a gal.The external mass
    of tissue she is sitting on is the pudendum.
    #39 Anonymous-You have witnessed and were moved
    -good-Albinos also suffer from rejection too.What you see is the misery of rejection,isolation for
    being different. At least you had a scintilla of
    sympathy.May the wind be always at your back.

  26. WizardofPlum, I’m not familiar with chimp anatomy, but I think I see male genitalia in the larger version of the picture.

  27. #49 Anonymous-Alopecia was my first reaction but
    consider the genetic structure of other hairless
    species.The Sphynx and Peterbald cats,Khala and
    chihuahua dogs.At the other end of the spectrum we
    have excessive hirsuity as in Hypertrichosis or
    Werewolf Syndrome.The errant chromosome for this
    condition is carried by the female.That hapless
    primate is her own victim, Paradox?

  28. #51. I’ve seen the cousins sleeping over subway grates. The thought occurred to me that I was looking at very intelligent people making the most of a really bad moment in their lives. I used my money to invest in-the moment and slept over the same grate. How about you??

  29. #33 posted by FreakCitySF, April 16, 2009 4:24 PM

    Breed with hairless female chimp, breed with human volunteers, could start a new species!

    Eponysterical, the degree thereof depending on whether SF stands for Science Fiction, or San Francisco.

    But “volunteers”? Really? I hope there’s no one at home looking at this photo and thinking “I’d hit that!” unless it’s Charley, the anchor from News From Zoos.

    Or, Mr. Smith, if you’re American.


    (Seriously, what was it about the “monkey” shows back in the ’80s? And what was William Overgard’s role in all of this?)

  30. @paprnackin: This is how Dick Bacon would have looked by now.

    @ everyone else: It’s a Milwaukee thing, but suddenly “Dick Bacon” makes me blush.

  31. what a miserable life this poor animal seems to lead.

    Sad that so many find more humor than empathy in this photo.

  32. shoot i was in Mysore 4 years ago. Didn’t know they had a zoo.

    Just kids looking for handouts and vendors who won’t surrender until you reach your car/taxi/rickshaw.

  33. My first thought was that he looks like a little old naked guy in need of a coat or a blanket. His skin’s a bit dry, too. Maybe some lotion would help that.

    Imagine a guy trying to put lotion on a screaming, flailing chimpanzee.

    That would be one hell of a zoo exhibit.

  34. #53 By golly I think you may be right.It didn’t
    occur to me to zoom in-to add to the misery, a
    hermaphrodite yet-thanks for you observation.If it is a male that poor creature has a spectactular
    case of hemorrhoids.I will investigate.

  35. #51 FLTNDBOAT Is your intellect pouncing now?If
    so humor me and frame your question in a less
    ambiguous manner.If you are asking do I wear a hair shirt to better understand the predicament of a less fortunate fellow being? the answer is NO,do you?

  36. Warren Ellis posts things 10 times worse on a daily basis… and I suspect his idea of a unicorn chaser would be served on a plate. Possibly in a glass.

  37. It’s like an organic version of the Uncanny Valley. He’s disturbing because he’s so close to being human — but not quite there.

  38. I don’t know what anyone can find nightmare-inducing about this. I just find it poignant and sad, but also quite lovely in that it’s such a striking reminder of how close we and these animals are to each other.

    Hairless cats, on the other hand, are creepy. This is not creepy.

  39. Put a check in the “completely fails to understand why this would freak anyone out” column for me.

    The ease of commenters to supply info on other hairless non-human primates is interesting, I wasn’t aware of the phenomena before.

  40. Awww, he’s cute. I’m sad he’s in a zoo though, then again I don’t know how much of a chance a hairless chimp would have. His skin is such a strange color? Can a chimp’s skin tan? I’ve never wondered that before.

  41. There’s nothing nightmarish or discomforting about that picture. The only feeling it inspires in me is compassion. He looks sad, like he needs a hug.

    But then again… note my username.

  42. I nominate “Xeni, I think we’re going to need a bigger unicorn” for Catchphrase of the Year for 2009.

  43. This chimp most likely has alopecia universalis. Our St. Louis Zoo just lost a beloved chimp that had this condition. She, unfortunately, also had an enlarged heart in addition to this skin condition.

    If you can’t handle this photo, then try this one:


    You’re a science writer? I have to ask: what kind of science? Astrology? Because I don’t know of any true scientist who would this chimp to be anything but fascinating.

  44. Dunno what the fuss is about. It just looks like “Nekkid” Grampa Charlie. “When you’re my age…” he used to say “…you won’t have the time nor the inclination fer clothin’.”

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