Wrinkly Fingers Evolved To Help You Grip Wet Objects

If you've ever sat in a bath staring at your fingers as they wrinkle involuntarily, you're in good company. Now, a team of scientists has worked out why it happens.

A series of laboratory tests have shown that wrinkles on fingers and toes resulting from water immersion actually improve grip on wet or submerged objects. Think car tyres: the grooves on your fingers provide a channel through which water can be evacuated as the part touching the object squeezes fluid out of the way.

In the experiments, subjects had to pick up wet or dry objects -- such as marbles -- with normal hands or fingers that had been soaked in water for 30 minutes. Those with wrinkly fingers could pick up wet objects faster and more reliably. The research, published in Biology Letters, strongly supports the hypothesis that we evolved the wrinkly-finger-syndrome as an evolved trait.

When tramping around the wet'n'wild outdoors on hunting trips, our forefathers' wrinkly fingers and toes could have helped them gather food: giving them better grip on rudimentary tools soaked from rain, or better foot traction on wet rock surfaces.

So why aren't our fingers permanently winkled? That remains to be discovered -- but it could be that smooth fingers offer better sensation or dexterity than the shrivelled versions. Regardless, it'll give you something to think about next time you're in the bath. [Biology Letters via Nature]

Picture: nathanmac87/Flickr.

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    Why isn't it that human skin just goes wrinkly when wet, and logic dictates that the grip improves due to the wrinkles, not necessarily that humans specifically evolved special skin that wrinkles when wet so we can grab things better? What specific recurring circumstances would necessitate the evolution of the trait?

      Well, we did evolve from the oceans...

      Spear fishing, swimming, diving for abelone/crab, barehand fishing, walking on wet rocks would be my guess.

      I think the title is misleading. The theory isn't that humans evolved wrinkly fingers so much as we once had them, and evolved smooth ones. And the wrinkles come back sometimes.


      The point is that's it only the skin around the pads of the fingers and toes that wrinkle. Not the whole body.

    Pffft, as if. God obviously made us get wrinkly fingers because HE knew it would help us grip things.

    Last edited 10/01/13 12:52 pm

      Nah, Its much more believable that everything evolved, and came into existence by coincedence

    Apparently a well loved theme over here at Gizmodo


      I knew I'd seen this before! Thanks :)

    I heard ages ago that our fingers got wrinkly because once submerged it washes some oil off of your fingers, i suppose this makes as much sense as well.

    Next research: why do old people get wrinkly?

      So they can get a better grip on all things, to help prevent an massive outbreak's of broken hips due to bathroom falls.

    huh.. i would have thought that wrinkly fingers (and toes) happened because your skin absorbes water and thus expands, because skin cant go anywhere else when it expands it raises and buckles (wrinkles).. then when we slowly dry out, the moisture evaporates or gets absorbed into the body and the skin returns to its original elasticity..

    but as im not a scientist, my theories are irrelevent.. (sigh).. such is life

      That's a none-too-shabs hypothesis. You win an honorary labcoat :)

    Lol so this is what scientists do when they have no research grants.

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