Ever wondered why your fingers and toes magically look like a wrinkly prunes when you're in the bath? Apparently it's all to do with gripping slippery objects. Oh, and it's nothing to do with absorbing water, either.
Researchers discovered that the wrinkling is all to do with the contraction of blood vessels, which actually makes your fingers and toes shrink, not swell up, creating the folds and wrinkles out of excess skin. This theory was proved through studies that showed when the nerves in fingers were damaged, the wrinkling wasn't seen in water. Essentially, it's all down to your autonomic nervous system, the same one that keeps you breathing.
That lead to studies by researchers in Newcastle into how the skin wrinkling was actually beneficial, not a hindrance as once thought under the water absorption theory. Turns out, your skin ends up doing the same job the tyres on your car do. The wrinkles channel away water from submerged or wet objects, providing better skin-to-surface grip. Simple really.
That begs the question, from where on Earth did we get this useful ability? Is there a hidden, distant Merman somewhere in our ancestry? Maybe old Kevin Costner in Water World was closer to the truth than we thought. [Biology Letters via The Guardian]
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