Why Do We Have Fingerprints? Learn How Our Fingertips Are Unique

Anusuya Mukherjee
Oct 12, 2023 By Anusuya Mukherjee
Originally Published on Oct 27, 2021
Business man Fingerprint scanning.

Our hands, and especially our fingers, are the most important body part that we use on a regular basis for a variety of activities.

Our fingertips, in particular, have something called fingerprints. They help us in understanding how unique and different we can be!

Why do we have fingerprints? This is a question that would have struck our minds quite often and the answer to this question is simple.

It is because of our fingertips that we are able to experience the sense of touch and perceive the things around us. It also allows us to grip and hold the things we want to too!

If you have never seen a fingerprint, perform this small exercise. Take a piece of paper, a pencil, and a small piece of tape.

Rub the tip of your pencil on the sheet of paper until you have a small black patch on it. Next, use your index finger and rub it in the black patch of your paper.

Now take the piece of tape and press it onto the blackened part of your index finger as hard as you can and then take it off. You will observe a fingerprint of your index finger on the tape!

You can repeat this exercise for the rest of your fingers too and then study them. Again, you will notice that each of your fingers has a different type of fingerprint.

Therefore, fingerprints are unique! Each fingerprint design, as stated by scientists, is the result of your environment as well as your genes.

This has been termed as 'multifactoral inheritance'. If you look at the surface of your fingertips closely, you can see some lines on them in the shape of whorls, ridges, or loops.

These lines are called 'friction ridges' and even though they may be hard to observe, they stick up above your skin! As mentioned earlier, these friction ridges on the surface of your skin can grow in three different designs or patterns.

Over a long period of time throughout history, scientists and researchers have concluded that the purpose of our fingerprints is to grip objects and touch a variety of surfaces.

It also improves our sense of touch with time.

In more recent years, science articles and studies have been published stating that the reason behind our fingerprints is to actually reduce the friction that occurs between our skin and the surface of an object where we make contact. It makes more sense when you try to grasp a smooth object.

The way our fingerprints are developed is quite interesting as it occurs from the fetal stages of development and scientists are still trying to discover more about how these prints form.

As a fetus, the outside layer of the skin is smooth but by about 10 weeks, a deeper skin layer is formed known as the basal layer. The inside skin layer, or the dermis, and the outside skin layer, or the epidermis, begin to grow together.

Guided by genes, the place at which these two layers meet allows the friction ridges to appear and form.

The speed at which these layers of skin form and meet is different in every fetus. There's a possibility that the layers can pull and stretch others if one layer of cells grows much faster than the rest.

The fingers rub against the sides of the womb when the fetus moves around. These tiny and small forces that occur in the womb push the skin as it grows.

This molds the direction of the ridges that are formed in the fingertips of the fetus.

This creates a unique fingertip that cannot be identified in any other human or person and is also why no two people have the same fingerprint design. Although this process may sound funny or strange to you, the overall shape and size of the fingerprints depend on the genes you inherit from your parents.

As we have established earlier, fingerprints start forming during pregnancy but there's also the possibility that some humans can be born not having any fingerprints on the skin surface of the finger, with the area being smooth to touch with no fingerprint patterns.

It is quite a rare occurrence and is called adermatoglyphia, a genetic mutation that leads to a person having no fingerprints. Also known as 'immigration delay disease', only four extended families are believed to have this condition.

The process of how fingerprints are developed is still an area that is not clear and scientists are still studying them in detail to arrive at more detailed conclusions.

If you enjoyed this article that answers why do we have fingerprints, make sure to check out these articles that answer the questions of why do we have fingernails and why do we have eyebrows!

What are fingerprints?

Our fingerprints help us in a lot of ways. We can make sense of the things in our environment thanks to the use of our fingertips.

The tiny ridges you see in your hands in the form of arches, loops, and whorls that give texture to the pads of your fingers are called fingerprints.

They ensure that you do not let go of either slippery or rough objects by providing you with a good grip and by also reducing friction by lessening the contact our skin makes with the particular object.

These ridges, also known as friction ridges or dermal ridges, are known to contain pores.

These pores are further connected to the sweat glands that are under our skin. If you didn't know it before, you leave your fingerprints on every item or object that you touch.

Similarly, these ridges are also present in the soles of our feet, providing us with the required grip there as well. This is even why we barely get any blisters on our feet unless we've had some sort of intense friction.

The design of your ridges largely depends upon the genetic code you inherit from your parents. This is why fingerprints are unique.

If you experience a serious skin injury of some sort, you will get back your prints only when the outer layer of skin heals. Fingerprints are beings used all over the world and to a large extent.

This is also why criminals who commit any sort of crime or felony are easily caught since their fingerprints are left on the things they would have touched. Even in technology, we can access our gadgets with the help of our fingerprints.

In countries, like the US and South America, biometric systems use fingerprints for security purposes as well as privacy!

There are also fingerprint systems where, by scanning the fingerprint of a person, his or her personal information can be accessed. Fingerprints are also used for identification where a criminal can be easily identified if they have committed a crime.

Do all animals have fingerprints?

No, not all animals have fingerprints but there are a few species like koalas and all types of apes that have fingerprints, as concluded by many scientists and researchers.

Most animals tend to have their own equivalent to fingerprints in humans. For instance, dogs and cats have their own unique whisker pattern and humpback whales are believed to have certain markings on the underside surface of their tails.

Even the pattern on the skins of leopards and spotted dolphins are unique to each individual! The fingerprints found in koalas are very much similar to the ones found in humans and their fingerprints are also unique to each individual.

The only difference lies in the fact that while humans tend to have these dermal ridges across their fingers and entire palms, koalas only possess fingerprints forms in their fingertips!

Therefore, we can conclude by saying that the presence of fingerprints in the Animalia kingdom is quite restricted and is mostly seen in animals that need to grip elements in their natural environment. In humans, when the fetus is about 17 weeks along in the mother's womb, it will have a fully developed, unique set of fingerprints.

It is believed that the epidermis and the inside skin layer, which is the dermis, grow together.

What are the different shapes of fingerprints?

Edward Henry, a renowned police officer in England, was commended for his fingerprinting method that helped in the easy identification of a criminal. He studied and recognized three basic fingerprint patterns in a person's hand which were arches, loops, and a whorl one too.

These three were the basic patterns that laid the foundation for the eight types of fingerprints recognized today by investigation agencies all over the world. These eight types, or subtypes rather, are called ulnar loop, radial loop, tented arch, plain arch, double loop, plain whorl, accidental whorl, and central pocket loop whorl.

Out of the arches, loops, and whorl designs, the pattern that occurs the most in a majority of humans is the loop pattern.

The ridges are seen to make backward turns imitating a loop but they do not twist. The next most common design of fingerprints known to appear in the tips of human fingers is whorl patterns and the pattern of arches is known to appear the least.

Do twins have the same fingerprints?

Various researchers in science have been trying to establish whether or not twins (whether identical or non-identical) have similar fingerprints or not while simultaneously studying their development.

By studying their genetic material and their development from the fetal stage until they are born, many have concluded that twins, in fact, do not share the same pattern of fingerprints. Although identical twins share many similar physical or mental factors, the feature of their fingerprint remains unique.

As stated by science, since there are two types of twins (identical and fraternal twins), it all depends upon their DNA.

As identical twins come from the same egg cells in the womb, both individuals share similar DNA. However, fingerprints are not included in them.

A range of factors in the environment can make the identification of similarities like the height and weight of identical twins easy. While they may not share the exact same fingerprint pattern, the characteristics of the fingerprint pattern can be a bit similar.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for why do we have fingerprints then why not take a look atcan cats eat chickenor why do dogs lick wounds.

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Written by Anusuya Mukherjee

Bachelor of Arts and Law specializing in Political Science and Intellectual Property Rights

Anusuya Mukherjee picture

Anusuya MukherjeeBachelor of Arts and Law specializing in Political Science and Intellectual Property Rights

With a wealth of international experience spanning Europe, Africa, North America, and the Middle East, Anusuya brings a unique perspective to her work as a Content Assistant and Content Updating Coordinator. She holds a law degree from India and has practiced law in India and Kuwait. Anusuya is a fan of rap music and enjoys a good cup of coffee in her free time. Currently, she is working on her novel, "Mr. Ivory Merchant".

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