How long do nail clippings last?

06 September 2016

Question

I pick my nails. How long do the discarded nail fragments last?

Answer

Kat asked Andrew Holding for an answer to this question...

Andrew - So one, yes you're right. It's disgusting. Do not do this. Some poor person's having to clean up behind you around the world. So, it's keratin that makes up your fingernails. So, that's actually quite hard to break down. It's not something that biology really evolve for to live off fingernails which is, I'm kind of grateful for. So if you ate them, you couldn't digest them. So that's not - people aren't going to be eating them. Not many things in the world do really so they'll sit around for a while.

Kat - And there are mummies with hair and nails and stuff like that.

Andrew - So, I was at the British Museum recently and my daughter was looking at this mummified corpse. It was mummified because it's just been sat in the desert. It wasn't an Egyptian one. She just said, "Daddy! It still got hair." I had to explain to her that it was actually a person who sat there for 5,000 years.

Kat - Ewe! David.

David - Well, I'm a geologist and I know keratin is a molecule which fossilises. You can extract fossil molecules of keratin from dinosaurs. So we're talking 150-million-year-old keratin. I don't think fingernails would survive that long but the stuff of which it's composed can be found in the fossil record.

Kat - Wow! Do you know if dinosaurs ate their fingernails? Did dinosaurs have fingernails?

David - They probably ate other dinosaur's fingernails.

Andrew - They do have claws which is kind of similar.

David - And feathers.

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