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Podcast S5 EP14: Are Redheads with Blue Eyes the Rarest? Is Red Hair Going Extinct?

Dr. Mark Elgar, an Evolutionary Biologist, weighs in

red hair extinct

There are a lot of myths surrounding those with red hair, and a common one is redheads are going extinct. Well, we wanted to bust that myth once and for all. Adrienne + Stephanie called in expert, Dr. Mark Elgar, a professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Melbourne. He earned his Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Cambridge in 1985 and is a member of the Australian Evolution Society.

Dr. Mark Elgar is well-known for his research on various aspects of animal behavior, including mating systems, communication, and social behavior. He has contributed significantly to the field of evolutionary biology, and his work has been published in numerous scientific journals. As an evolutionary biologist, he went on the How to be a Redhead podcast to explain why redheads are NOT going extinct and why red hair + blue eyes are the rarest combo.

As Dr. Elgar explains, the idea that redheads are going extinct might stem from a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of genetic trends. The gene responsible for red hair, called MC1R, is recessive, meaning both parents must carry a specific combination of the gene for their child to have red hair. With intermingling of different populations and genetic diversity, the prevalence of the red hair trait could fluctuate over time.

Additionally, some news articles or internet rumors can spread the idea that redheads are becoming rarer, which may not necessarily reflect the entire truth. It’s important to critically evaluate the sources and validity of such claims before accepting them as factual.

There is no substantial evidence to suggest that redheads are going extinct.

Adrienne + Stephanie asked some of the most pressing redhead questions regarding recessive genes, eye color, and more. Some of those questions include: 

  • Are we a dying breed or not? Or, are redhead genes always going to be there?
  • There is a big debate in the redhead community. Some say it’s red hair and green eyes that are the rarest. Why are red hair and blue eyes the rarest combination?
  • Is red hair recessive in other mammals like cats and dogs or is it just humans?
  • How can we know what someone’s hair color was thousands of years ago without having seen a photograph? Is that something you can figure out from digging up skeletons and testing them, or how does that work?
  • Our audience is obsessed with different shades of red hair. We usually say every shade is different, it’s almost like a unique fingerprint amongst redheads. You said in the article, “Redheads range from strawberry blonde, brownish auburn hair or flaming red tresses..” because the MCR1 gene is also a ‘quantitative trait’ which means that depending on which version of the mutation a person carries, there is variation in the appearance of those who carry the gene. Can you explain more?
  • Are two redheaded parents guaranteed to have a redheaded child?

Note: This episode was taped in March when Stephanie was pregnant. You may hear Stephanie talk about being pregnant, and post-pregnancy throughout the different episodes due to pre-recording. Spoiler: Her baby was not born with red hair.

If you’re looking for the articles mentioned in this episode, you’re in luck:

READ: Are Redheads With Blue Eyes Really Going Extinct? (University of Melbourne, Article by Dr. Mark Elgar)

READ: Redheads: Will You Go White or Gray?

You can hear Stephanie, Adrienne, and Dr. Elgar discuss these questions and more on the latest episode of the How to be a Redhead Podcast available directly below, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts: 

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