The Natural History of the Mustache

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You may not be aware of it — it didn’t get a lot of press, for some reason — but last week marked an important historical anniversary: exactly one billion years ago last Thursday, the world’s first mustache crawled up out of the primordial sea onto dry land. Of course, a billion years ago, there were no paparazzi on the shore with popping flashbulbs; no one set off any fireworks to mark the occasion; there were no tickertape parades. Yet the significance of that event was astronomical, for it would forever change the face of mankind.

The face of mankind, however, did not yet exist. Humans wouldn’t arrive on the planet for hundreds of millions of years. The mustache would have to wait.

While it waited, it multiplied. After only a few million years, the mustache population had grown to an alarming size. There were now more mustaches on earth than any other form of facial hair, including the eyebrow. Traveling in great herds consisting of several thousand individuals, the mustaches would sweep across the ancient African plain, leaving in their wake a trail of destruction several miles wide. Any animal that lay in their path was enveloped in a veil of murderous whiskers. They could skeletonize a brontosaurus in a matter of minutes. Even the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex — king of the dinosaurs — would avoid a mustache encounter at any cost. Known as the Mustacheoic era, this was the mustache’s golden age. Never again would it exist in such great numbers. Never again would it command such respect.

The seeds of the mustache’s downfall were sown by its very success. They were such proficient hunters, they would often kill far more than they needed, and rather than waste food, the mustaches gorged. As time went on, they grew increasingly fat, until most were as big as haystacks. Their excess pounds slowed them so much, they could barely hunt. No longer the swift and deadly creatures they once were, they now proved easy targets for the very predators that had once fled from them in mortal panic. Soon the plains were littered with the bodies of dead mustaches. Blood flowed in a million scarlet streams. It soaked into the earth, transforming the plains into a crimson landscape straight out of Hell. The mustache plunged toward extinction.

This was the mustache’s darkest hour. It was an hour that would last three million years. During this time, the mustache population was so small, it left no evidence that it even existed. No mustache fossil dating from this period has ever been found and, consequently, almost nothing is known about the mustache’s day-to-day life during these years. What did it eat? Where did it live? Did it interbreed with sideburns? The answers to these questions and to others like them are forever hidden behind a thick wall of impenetrable mystery.

As the Ice Age began, the mustache reëmerged on a grand scale. It is one of the greatest recoveries in the history of the natural world. Suddenly, the mustache was everywhere. Seemingly overnight, its population had soared to heights rivaling those of the Mustacheoic era.

What had caused such a dramatic resurgence? It is a question that once baffled the world’s greatest minds. Freud had hypothesized a decade-long orgy, while Einstein pointed to a newly evolved strain of huckleberry. Both, it turned out, were monumentally wrong.

In 1961, two French scientists, while looking for a lost Frisbee in a snowbank in northern Siberia, stumbled upon a startling discovery: lying just beneath the snow was an almost perfectly preserved woolly mammoth. They never found their Frisbee, but their mammoth would soon stun the world.

On close inspection, the mammoth’s woolly coat was discovered to be composed entirely of mustaches. In a mutually beneficial arrangement, the mustaches had insulated the mammoths from the severe cold, and the mammoths, in turn, had provided the mustaches not only with warmth and transportation, but also with sustenance: for the mustaches would feed on the mammoths’ blood. News that the mammoth was actually a pink and hairless species rocked the scientific world. But even more shocking was the news that the once-noble mustache had become a lowly parasite. Riots broke out around the globe.

After several days, the riots died down, but anti-mustache sentiment persisted everywhere. The leading scientific journals published articles vilifying the mustache for driving the beloved mammoth to extinction. Angry mobs set out into the wilderness seeking vengeance. When they found a mustache, they shot it execution-style, then burnt the corpse to cinders.

Nearly a year after the initial riots, it was reported on the front page of the New York Times that the world’s last mustache had been killed earlier that morning. The news kicked off a global celebration that lasted for weeks.

Merrymakers around the world would have been surprised to learn that, despite everything, the mustache was far from extinct. But it was true: Millions of mustaches were alive and well, hiding in plain sight, right under their very noses.

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