Zombie fingertips causing you problems? Well, have we got the solution for you! New, from RONCO, FINGER BRAINS!
Oh, come on! You all know we don't really have brains in our fingers.
But you have to admit, those wrinkles do kind of look like a brain. Kind of. Sort of. Maybe. Or, maybe it's just me. Whatever.
Everyone at some point in their lives has noticed that their fingers and feet get all wrinkled when exposed to moisture for extended periods. It happens in the bath, or the pool. If you splash about in the lake, or raft down the river. And if your gloves become damp, your fingers will wrinkle up inside the glove.
As a kid I asked my mom why it happened. I got the standard answer: "Because your fingers and toes soak up the water and get all wrinkly." She also told me that the water would evaporate and my fingers would become normal again.
And the sad part is, I believed her. For a while. But, by the time I graduated high school, I had pretty much discarded that notion. (yes. I'm that guy who spends his time thinking about strange stuff. Always have. You think I got this odd in just the last couple of years?)
Pshaw, you say. But it's true. I even asked my 10th grade Biology teacher why it happened, and he gave me the 'soaks up water' excuse. 'But', I responded, 'then why doesn't your entire body wrinkle? That skin is just as absorbent as your hands and feet.'
As was typical of the men and women who had the misfortune of having me in their class, I was given an eye roll and my question was ignored. (teachers hated me. I was the only student they encouraged to not ask questions.)
Thankfully, there are lots of people like me. People who just need to know these things. Sure, it's not world changing, and if we never found out the reason, there would be no adverse consequences. But, damn it, I want to know!
So, to appease me, (actually, it was to stop me from finding them and asking the question), scientists began investigating, and in 2011, found me an answer.
And I was right. It has nothing to do with water absorption.
It's an evolutionary adaptation that helped our ancestors to survive. And it's really neat.
When a person comes into prolonged contact with moisture, we get wrinkles on our finger tips and on our feet. These wrinkles act much like the tread on tires. It gives us traction.
Early hominids were hunter/gatherers. And they had to go out rain or shine to get food. Picking up something wet with dry or slightly damp hands is difficult. Grasping a flopping fish can be tricky. It's the smooth finger tips that cause this.
But, when your finger tips wrinkle, the wrinkles work to wick away the water, allowing you to get a better grip with more surface area.
Experiments were conducted where volunteers tried to pick up wet and dry marbles. With un-wrinkled finger tips, they had no problems picking up the dry, but picking up the wet took longer, and the occurrences of drops were more frequent.
The subjects then soaked their hands in warm water for 30 minutes. With wrinkled finger tips, they were able to pick up the wet and the dry marbles with equal ease. And they didn't drop any.
As for the feet, it's not just the toes that wrinkle, but also the balls of the feet and the heels. For someone who walked barefoot, the wrinkles increased traction and stability on wet grass, mud, or stones.
It's been known since the early 1930's that people who have nerve damage in their fingers don't wrinkle up when wet. This led researchers to conclude that it's an involuntary reaction to moisture to wrinkle up.
You may wonder why, if the wrinkles improve our traction and grip so much, why we just don't stay wrinkled. The researchers considered this. They discovered that when your skin is wrinkled, you lose sensitivity in your fingers. You can't feel things as well, also you are more vulnerable to injury. For example, if you're wrinkled, you will not feel pain from fire as quickly as when you aren't wrinkled.
Also, the wrinkles are more susceptible to getting caught on something, resulting in more cuts.
To sum up, we wrinkle so we can walk, run and grab better in the rain. Because SCIENCE!
Yet again, I have filled a tiny part of your brain with yet another useless piece of information. But, the more you learn, the smarter you are. And the smarter you are, the more likely it is I'll allow you to continue playing on my lawn before it gets the hose.