I was sitting here trying to think of something to write about this month when I suddenly started puzzling over the structures of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (aka NAD) and nicotinamide riboside (aka NR), a couple of molecules people routinely ingest for purposes including but not limited to hair regrowth and anti-aging. I swear on Vidal Sassoon’s hair clippers that I am not making this up.
I don’t know why NAD and NR popped into my head. But I thought ‘maybe I can work this into a column’. After that I thought, ‘well first of all, almost nobody knows what a “column” is any more because columns are what people write in newspapers and secondly almost nobody knows what a newspaper is any more.’ Finally I thought, ‘What the heck? This is a totally stupid, boring idea.’ In fact, it was so boring that I fell asleep at the keyboard. But while I was sleeping I had this dream…
In my dream a beautiful angel with long, flowing tresses and glorious white wings appeared to me and spoke the words, “Google this: ‘bird plucking hairs from a dog’s tail.'” Then she vanished, leaving behind a faint odor of nicotinamide riboside. Or maybe it was nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide. I forget which.
Now alert readers know that at the start of the first episode of Breaking Bad, an RV runs off the road and crashes. You have no idea why. Then the narrative jumps back in time 12 hours to see what led up to the crash. I’m going to use the exact same plot device right now!
TWO DAYS BEFORE MY DREAM…
So. I was watching my dog, Sarge, out the window as he was minding his own business and chewing on a large stick in the backyard. Next thing I knew, a magpie hopped up and started plucking hairs out of the white tuft situated at the end of Sarge’s bushy tail.
Sarge was completely unfazed during the whole incident and didn’t even turn to look at what was going on back in his nether regions. The magpie eventually hopped away. Sarge kept gnawing on his stick.
Fast forward to now. Following the advice of the angel who appeared in my dream, I Google ‘bird plucking hairs from dog’s tail’ and discover that the internet is teeming with video clips featuring birds, many of them titmice, pulling hairs off various furry critters.
Here is an actual unretouched photo of a titmouse (in foreground) thinking hard about depilating a sleeping red fox:
Not that I’m bragging, but it’s quite possible that I have the only footage in existence featuring a magpie plucking hair from the tail of a plus-sized 9.5-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog.
Amazingly, scientists have only recently began to study this widespread phenomenon. In bygone days they figured that the animal hair which birds used for nest-building came from carcasses, from hair that had been shed or maybe from Amazon. No one had a clue that birds were out there plucking away with reckless abandon. (Good Blink 182 song, by the way.)
This gaping knowledge-void began to fill in 2020, when Henry Pollock, an ornithology postdoc at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign was minding HIS own business counting birds in a park when he spotted a tufted titmouse harvesting fur from a raccoon and managed to get some video. You can find the riveting four minute clip in this article: https://www.livescience.com/birds-pluck-hair-from-live-animals.html. The titmouse repeatedly probes the raccoon’s nether regions and the raccoon keeps reaching around and swatting at the titmouse until it (the raccoon) finally resigns itself to the fur-probing.
Pollock went on to write a paper about all this avian hair-pilfering and named it kleptotrichy which is Greek for “stealing of hair”.
Anyway, enough about Henry. The grand saga of Life doth continue, and so doth Sarge continue to gnaw his stick. He wisely decided not to press charges against the magpie, in order to prevent a scenario like this from unfolding:
Prosecuting Attorney (to a magpie perched on the edge of the witness box): You have been charged with Kleptotrichy. Did you or did you not pluck numerous white hairs from the tail of that dog, Sarge, seated over there next to the man with the bushy salt and pepper forehead caterpillars?
The magpie nods sheepishly, flies over, feints toward Sarge then pivots and deftly plucks several long hairs from the left eyebrow of the man.
Defense Attorney: “Objection Your Honor!”
Judge (to courtroom): Overruled!
Judge (to Sarge): Is this man your owner?
Sarge flops down resting his chin between his paws and looks up at the judge. He wags his tail feebly.
Judge: This dog is ridiculous.
Judge (to courtroom): I sentence Sarge’s owner to eyebrow threading without anesthesia. I sentence Sarge to Nicotinamide Riboside 200 mg bid x three months, with one refill depending on how his tuft is doing. And as for the bird, there’s nothing a little rock salt won’t fix. Bailiff, hand me my shotgun!