Why Is Your Nose So Big?

We can’t find anything else this morning, so wet your beak with this news story from the University of Iowa: New study explains why men’s noses are bigger than women’s.

Interested? Sure you are. So draw close to your computer screen (as close as your big schnoz will allow) and let’s get started. The bold font was added by us:

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.

It’s about time this subject received the attention it deserves. Hold on, there’s more:

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.

Big beak, big muscles. Let’s read on:

“This relationship has been discussed in the literature, but this is the first study to examine how the size of the nose relates to body size in males and females in a longitudinal study,” says Nathan Holton, assistant professor in the UI College of Dentistry and lead author of the paper, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Here’s a link to the dentistry professor’s paper about nasal morphology: Ontogenetic scaling of the human nose in a longitudinal sample: Implications for genus Homo facial evolution. Without a subscription, all you can see is the abstract, so we’ll stay with the university’s article. They have another quote from Holton:

We have shown that as body size increases in males and females during growth, males exhibit a disproportionate increase in nasal size. This follows the same pattern as energetic variables such as oxygenate consumption, basal metabolic rate and daily energy requirements during growth.

This may have broader evolutionary implications. We’re told:

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.

That may be a bit of over-reach. Correlation doesn’t establish causation. Also, current thinking is that the Neanderthals were our cousins, not direct ancestors. Besides that, apes have a lot more muscle mass than we do, and look at their noses! Anyway, here’s how the study was done:

Holton and his team tracked nose size and growth of 38 individuals of European descent enrolled in the Iowa Facial Growth Study from three years of age until the mid-twenties, taking external and internal measurements at regular intervals for each individual. The researchers found that boys and girls have the same nose size, generally speaking, from birth until puberty percolated, around age 11. From that point onward, the size difference grew more pronounced, the measurements showed.

Although the study was limited to individuals of European descent, we’re told:

Holton says the findings should hold true for other populations, as differences in male and female physiology cut across cultures and races, although further studies would need to confirm that.

Such a study would be interesting, as we understand that Asian cartoons sometimes characterize Westerners as having large noses. One last excerpt:

Another interesting aspect of the research is what it all means for how we think of the nose. It’s not just a centrally located adornment on our face; it’s more a valuable extension of our lungs.

So the next time you meet a lady with a large nose, you can say: “What nice lungs you have, my dear.”

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

8 responses to “Why Is Your Nose So Big?

  1. 700 words (approximately) to set up a single punchline. And a pretty good one, too.

  2. Lewis Thomasonn

    The what nice lungs you have comment might get you a bigger nose because of the swelling from being punched .

  3. How intelligently designed are we! 🙄

    This study is clearly nothing to sneeze or to thumb your nose at from an ID perspective. A big, sharp proboscis is also a striking symbolism for the knack of ferreting out the TRVTH. Or blood if you’re a mosquito.

    Is that a snort of derision we hear? No, it’s the sniff of an IgNobel.

  4. I must vigorously point out that the whole subject of nasal dimensions was long ago and definitively covered by the inimitable Enlightenment cleric and novelist Laurence Sterne (whose 300th birthday it is this Sunday, 24 November, btw) in Vol. IV of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Therein one may find Slawkenbergius’s Tale, which

    recounts the journey of a courteous gentleman, Diego, who was endowed with a massive nose. Diego attempts to pass inconspicuously through Strasburg on his way from the “Promontory of Noses”, but the sight of his giant nose sends the Strasburgers, especially the nuns, into a restless frenzy. The tale relays the results of the upset in Strasburg and the travels of Diego to his admirer Julia.

    I will leave to the curious reader the delightful task of reading that most excellent volume in order to better learn the deeper significance of noses, and much else, besides…

  5. Ceteris Paribus

    There is no reason to suppose that larger noses for male hominids is the result of air volume to support muscle mass. It is far simpler to pay attention to the fact that larger noses emerge only at puberty.

    Since the chance a male has for mating increases quite markedly with frequency of bathing, obviously individuals with a better sense of smell provided by larger nasal passages will gain an evolutionary advantage, and pass on their Y genes for bigger nose size.

  6. The muscle mass thing doesn’t make sense, given that only males of European descent have huge noses. It’s probably sexual selection. In other words, your big noses are purely ornamental, guys. They are designed to hint at other capabilities…

  7. Sort of like a codpiece for the face, eh linnetmoss? 😀

  8. @linnetmoss & Con-Tester:

    “An der Nase eines mannes, erkennt man seinen Johannes”