Science Questions

Why do we have finger- and toenails?

Sun, 14th Mar 2010

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Ace asked:

Why do we have nail on our finger and toes extremities? could we live without them?

Thanks for your answers and keep up the good work!


Helen -  Well, I think some people would answer so they can paint them pretty colours, and that way nails can be part of the way you attract a mate. FingersBut in fact, if you look around, lots of different animals that we’re related to, lots of other mammals, also have fingernails or claws. And they’re all very useful.  And we also have them probably because they are useful tools. If you think back to our ancestors when we first evolved as humans, fingernails can be very useful for picking things up – picking the skin off a fruit, say, for scratching an itch.

If you went to see how useful they are, put a sticking plaster or tape over your nails and see how you lose that ability to use your nails as tools.  That’s probably why we still have them.  Why do we have toenails?  Probably, because our ancestors, chimpanzee-like creatures, also use their feet for manipulating objects and a toenail helps to give you grip.  So really, nails are 20 little tools for us to use in our daily lives and that’s why we still have them and indeed, I'm glad we do – it can be very painful without them.


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thanks for your linguistic answer  .
so, how about toes then? do nails play a protective role or something (since we don't use our feet to grab things, i do  , but nails don;t come into play)?  if, say, i happen to lose all my toe nail, will i get infections or else?
ace acekyle, Thu, 11th Feb 2010

I had to have both big toe nails removed surgically a few months ago. They took a little while to fully heal, but have done so now. I spend a lot of time in boots and around livestock, but haven't noticed any discomfort. Previously, the nails had been damaged several times, and had become  thickened and mis-shapen, thus were curved over and cutting into the sides of the toes.

The surface of the skin where the nails once were is possibly a little thinner than the skin at the end and under the toes, slightly shinier than that on the top of the rest of the toes, but not more sensitive now than that. One can still see the indentations where the nails once were. OldDragon, Mon, 15th Feb 2010

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