Martijn van Mensvoort -  Hand Research

October 4, 2007

"Strange but true":

Fingerprints, Toeprints ... and Tailprints?

Loops and Whorls enhance friction.


QUESTION: What's on the tail of a New World monkey that we humans have as well, and essentially for the same biological reason, though for us their cultural function gets most of the attention? -- St. J. Davis

ANSWER: Fingerprints, a.k.a. friction ridges or dermatoglyphics (literally, finger writing), which appear on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet of many mammals, says Nina Jablonski in Skin: A Natural History.

In humans, these tiny ridges display recognizable designs and patterns, such as whorls, loops, visible openings from the pores of sweat glands, plus end points, branch points, etc. Their unique places and orientations never change throughout life. Statistical analysis of these today virtually eliminates the chance of incorrectly identifying someone.

Zoologists know that the function of "fingerprints" in nature is to enhance friction and to promote a more secure grip. Among primates, dermatoglyphics appear not only on the palms and soles, but also on the undersides of the prehensile tails of New World monkeys, serving as a sort of "fifth hand" for swinging from tree limb to tree limb.

Notes from your webmaster:

* Actually, this 'strange but true'-news is by fact pretty old news, for Harold Cummins & Charles Midlo reported many years ago much more details about tailprints written in their famous Finger prints, palms, and soles (1943) - A.K.A 'The Bible of dermatoglyphics'.

* Would you like to read a little bit more about primate fingerprints? Read more about this fascinating topic in this article discussing the resemblence of human fingerprints and koala fingerints: Fingerprint homoplasy: koalas and humans (1997).


Related sources:
Evolutionary Handanalysis
Richard Unger presents: 'Lifeprints'




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