EXPLAINED: Why We Have Fingernails

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By Jessica Anderson for YouBeauty.com

Whether you bite them, paint them or click them obsessively on counter-tops, chances are you don’t realize how fascinating your fingernails really are. Just think, why do we even have them in the first place? When did they first evolve in humans?

A recently published study nailed some of those questions right on the head.

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Conducted by the University of Florida, the study analyzed the oldest evidence of nails in modern primates to date -- namely, 55.8 million year-old specimens of Teilhardina brandti, an extinct lemur-like monkey -- and found that the animal used its nails to grab onto tree branches.

“Claws would be useful for certain types of climbing,” said Jonathan Bloch, co-author of the study and an associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “But having nails would have helped with grasping small branches and manipulating small food items such as fruits, nuts and flowers.”

So nails are tools, claws are climbers.

But why do these findings have scientists so excited? Because they’re likely the precursors of the nails that we see on primates today, including humans, Bloch says. Which means our nails are much older than we ever realized!

Next time you’re unscrewing that baby bottle, or tearing open a sugar packet to pour into your morning latte, you can thank little T. brandti. He gave you the nimble fingertips that let you do it.

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