The Real Reason We Have Nails On Our Fingers And Toes

As a kid, if you ever wished you could trade in your regular old fingernails in exchange for the strength and pizzazz of a pair of superhero-like claws or talons, you may be surprised to learn that our nails are descendants of exactly that.

Humans stem from primates, and primates have evolved over time to possess nails on both their fingers and toes (via The Conversation).  Tracing our history back even further, humans and primates alike can attribute the development of our nails back to ancestors that once possessed claws. The earliest of humans used their nails in support of day-to-day activities in their environment, such as gripping tree branches and providing exterior protection for our sensitive fingertips (via Science ABC). The same holds true for our toenails. Although we no longer use our toes to regularly pick up items throughout the day, other primates such as chimpanzees and gorillas still do.

Our toenails and fingernails have offered us protection throughout evolution

Our nails are mostly made up of keratin, the same protein found in our hair and skin (via On Health). The topmost outer layer of our nails is made up of dead cells, which is why we don't experience pain during routine nail clippings (via Healthline). However, the skin underneath the nail contains delicate nerve endings, and our fingernails and toenails serve as an important protective barrier from the environment, injury, and possible infection (via Healthline).

If your inner child is still feeling bummed out over the evolutionary loss of human claws, consider how difficult life would be today if we had them. Basic functions such as eating, scratching, and simply holding things would become infinitely more difficult. With nails, we are better able to pick up small items, utilize the full range of motion of our hands, and use important objects such as tools, which were essential to early human development. Although toenails and fingernails may not have the same "cool" factor as claws and talons, there is no doubt that our nails continue to serve an important purpose in our day to day lives.