Why do we have finger- and toenails?

14 March 2010


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. But 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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