National Geographic News
Photo of Jimmy Durante.

Actor and singer Jimmy Durante was known as "Schnozzola" for his famously large nose.

Photograph by Weegee (Arthur Fellig), International Center of Photography/Getty Images

Brian Handwerk

for National Geographic

Published November 19, 2013

Men, your noses are indeed growing—but not from telling tall tales.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Iowa report that male noses are about 10 percent larger than female noses, on average, for a given body size.

The research suggests that these larger schnozzes are simply nature's way of fueling the lean muscle mass that men have in higher proportion than women. (Read why men's ring fingers are longer too—the reasons may surprise you.)

That's because bigger noses enable men to bring more oxygen into their bodies, which in turn helps to grow and maintain their energy-hungry muscles, according to the UI College of Dentistry's Nathan Holton, lead author of the research.

While the human nose sits plainly on the face, it has less to do with the other features of the skull than it does with the respiratory system, Holton stressed. (See National Geographic's pictures of faces around the world.)

The nose functions as an extension of the lungs and helps circulate oxygen to nourish muscle.

The Nose Knows

For the research, Holton's team charted nose size and growth in 38 males and females who took part in a growth study from age 3 to their mid-20s.

Gender differences in nose size begin to show up at around age 11, the team found, about the same time as puberty—which sparks the growth of more lean muscle in men and more fat mass in women. (Read "Battle of the Sexes: How Women and Men See Things Differently.")

Previous physiological studies have shown that 95 percent of the weight males gain during puberty is lean muscle, but that such muscle accounts for only 85 percent of female growth.

"After puberty, for any given body size, males tend to have larger noses because more of the male body is made up of lean muscle tissue that's metabolically more expensive," explained Holton, whose study was published recently in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

While the test group was of entirely Caucasian heritage, it's expected that other lineages will show similar results because differences in male and female physiology appear to be universal, he added.

Neanderthal Noses

In the long view, gender isn't the only variable in who grows a big nose.

Decades of research have shown that nose sizes and shapes tend to change with climate, the better to heat and humidify the air they breathe.

And similar schnoz size differences appear when comparing modern humans with our ancient relatives like the Neanderthals, the study asserts. (See "Secrets of Smell: Different Nose Parts for Stinky, Sweet.")

"Research suggests that compared to modern humans, Neanderthals had more muscle mass and required more oxygen intake," Holton said.

"This study suggests that when we take a look at nasal-size reduction in modern humans, compared to archaic humans, it might be linked to reductions in body mass."

16 comments
Rafael B
Rafael B

What if you breathe through your mouth? haha

Ed Merritt
Ed Merritt

The problem with this argument is that it's wrong. Oxygen getting into the lungs is not a limiting factor in blood oxygenation, muscle oxygen utilization,  or physical performance. It does explain why mouth breathers closely resemble Neanderthals though.

Brian Carey
Brian Carey

I no longer resent being called "big nose"! Thanks NG!

Lara Velieva
Lara Velieva

Haha! Maybe it's true... but I prefer small or normal noses on men.

El Gabilon
El Gabilon

We give credit to our snozel for our longevity and for never having to have bought a fishing pole.  We could probably live a lot longer if the article have given instructions as to how we could enlarge our nose, such as weight training would do for our muscles.  Would hanging a 20lb weight for an hour or so a day do any good? Our would using an oxygen tank even though we don't need one do the job for us?

Last Curmudgeon
Last Curmudgeon

natural selection.  men don't like big noses on women.  women don't like small noses on men.  sex organ size indicators.  next question,

Yaarov Skimaan
Yaarov Skimaan

Their research is all wrong.

God gave men big noses a reason; with large air intake, he could detect quickly the arousing smell of the woman's skin, of her perfume before he entered the bedroom. The ultimate effect: Reproduction could be sped up and the world grew.

btw, animals don't wear perfume or fragrance. That's why the noses of male female animals are of the same size. How they came together to reproduce was just routinely boring.

j g
j g

BOO THIS MAN!

craig hill
craig hill

@Yaarov Skimaan Dear Yaarov, evolution occurs for two reasons, sexual reproduction as you note AND the ability to live long enough TO reproduce. Certainly the ability to breathe is of greater moment than the ability of the nose, a relatively weak sense organ in humans, to smell the opposite sex. Without the larger nose to help the male breathe, he could expire before he can ejaculate.

The fact that smaller animals' noses are of similar size in both male and female proves the point that males of larger mammals need larger noses to carry their bulk around and take in enough oxygen to mate.

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