Why do fingers wrinkle in water?

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Fiona Macrae

It is an annoying side-effect of doing the washing up without gloves. But letting your fingers go wrinkly in the water can actually help with doing the dishes – by stopping you dropping the crockery.

The shrivelling of the skin on the fingers makes it easier to grip things under water and pick up wet objects, researchers found.

And they suggest it may even be an evolutionary development.

Researcher Tom Smulders said: “Going back in time, this wrinkling of our fingers in wet conditions could have helped with gathering food from wet vegetation or streams.”

Newcastle University scientists asked people to pick up marbles and fishing weights and transfer them from one container to another.

The objects, which were sometimes submerged in water, were picked up with normal hands and with hands that had been held in warm water for half an hour to make them wrinkly.

Wrinkled fingers were quicker at picking up wet objects, but offered no advantage for moving dry ones, Biology Letters reports.

Smulders added that toes wrinkling in the bath could have evolved from a need to walk or run on slippery ground. He plans to carry out further research to see if other animals share the trait.

“We use our hands for picking up objects, but many other animals use their forepaws for walking and, of course, we get wrinkles on our toes as well. It’s possible that it actually evolved to give better traction in wet conditions for running or walking.”

Wrinkles form when the blood vessels constrict, shrinking the fingertips and pulling in the skin.

– Daily Mail


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