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Wrinkled Fingers? You Have a Better Grip of Things

Update Date: Jan 14, 2013 08:08 AM EST

When fingers or toes are submerged in water, they become wrinkled, which is undesired for. However, they might actually be there for a cause, and benefit an individual.

In a recent study conducted by researchers of Newcastle University, it has been observed that the formation of wrinkles when the hand is under water actually helps in better grip and gives balance.

In what seems to be yet another example of adaptation, it has been found that when submerged under water, a wrinkled hand has a better grip than an unwrinkled one. However, a wrinkled hand has no effect on a dry surface. The blood vessels contract on contact with water, thus causing the wrinkles. This contraction is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system of the body.

Evolution and adaptation are two phenomena that have fascinated geneticists over the years. The various forms of evolution to facilitate the subsequent adaptation are widespread and complex; the development of gills in fish, and the long neck of a giraffe being a few examples which are commonly cited.

To demonstrate this adaptation, a bucket of water was taken and marbles were immersed in it. The volunteers were then asked to pick up the marbles and deposit it with the second hand to another container via a narrow slot. It was found that the speed of picking up the marbles was faster in wrinkled fingers than of the fingers with smooth skin.

"If wrinkled fingers were just the result of the skin swelling as it took up the water, it could still have a function but it wouldn't need to. Whereas, if the nervous system is actively controlling this behavior under some circumstances and not others, it seems less of a leap to assume there must be a function for it, and that evolution has selected it. And evolution wouldn't have selected it unless it conferred some sort of advantage," Dr. Tom Smulders, from Newcastle Centre for Behavior and Evolution, told BBC News.

Scientists are now interested to see if a similar adaptation is evident in primates as well, as that will substantiate the theory of adaptation. 

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