Wrinkly when wet

By John Pastor • Published: April 19th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

As college students swarm to the shore for warmer weather, many of them will be stricken by an unsightly condition that causes deformity from the tips of their fingers to the ends of their toes.

Don’t worry, there’s no need for any brows to wrinkle in revulsion. We are referring to a temporary malady that many of us have experienced … pruney fingers.

When digits are repeatedly dipped and dunked, it is not uncommon to see fissures form in the fingertips.

It is not harmful, but it is odd-looking. And it turns out that there may be an evolutionary reason for it.

Ever see how a tire stays in contact with wet pavement, channeling water through grooves in the rubber?

Scientists think the same thing could be happening with our fingers and toes … the wrinkling effect actually provides tread for gripping.

Evolutionary biologists at Newcastle University in England tested how quickly people with wrinkled and unwrinkled fingers could move wet and dry marbles.

If the marbles were dry, it didn’t matter, people were equally fast.

But if they were moving wet marbles, people with wrinkled fingers were about 12 percent quicker.

Scientists speculate this phenomenon may have evolved in our toes, to help us rise on two feet from all fours. It no doubt came in handy for foraging for food in streams and rivers.

The next step for researchers is to look at other species with wrinkling ability and find out how it’s worked out for them.

As for the question about why our fingers and toes aren’t permanently pruned, scientists aren’t sure.

But the answer might be as close as the nearest hot tub. Soggy, furrowed feet aren’t usually A-list qualities on the dating circuit.

But the fact is, pruney appendages really aren’t gross at all. Evolutionarily speaking, they’re pretty groovy.