• Question: Why do we have webed hands and tooes? Does it have anything to do with mermaids

    Asked by leahdoyle123 to Angela, Gabriele, Karen, Maria, Shane on 13 Nov 2013.
    • Photo: Karen McCarthy

      Karen McCarthy answered on 13 Nov 2013:

      My friend has webbed toes and they are the funniest, cutest little things!

      Webbed toes, or syndactyly, occur when two or more toes or fingers are attached together. This might be just a joining of the skin but it could also be the bones fused together.

      Basically when a baby is developing in the womb, the hand/foot originally is shaped like a flat paddle. After time it begins to spilt and form fingers/toes. Sometimes they might not divide fully, hence webbed fingers/toes.

      Animals which live in the water, like playptus or ducks deliberately develop webbed feet to help them swim better, but for humans having webbed feet/toes is not deliberate, and doesn’t appear to give much of an advantage, so I don’t think we’re evolved to be from mermaids unfortunately!

    • Photo: Shane Mc Guinness

      Shane Mc Guinness answered on 13 Nov 2013:

      Did you know that all humans have webbed toes and fingers when we first develop in our mothers wombs!? We only lose this in the very final stages of our growth, just before we’re born, through process known as “apoptosis”, or programmed cell death.
      If we were to begin living in water a lot more, we might just evolve webbing, but it would take a long time, as evolution doesn’t happen overnight!
      Interestingly, mermaids are a legend that might come from nature. Sailors from Europe used to see strange creatures with human-like faces in the water which they thought were naked ladies! It turns out these were probably manitees, dugongs or seals, as paintings of these creatures from the time are VERY similar to these creatures. They had webbed hands, tails or feet because it helps them to swim better!

    • Photo: Angela Stevenson

      Angela Stevenson answered on 13 Nov 2013:

      Hi Leah, your questions are brilliant! Ok so I have to admit that I love the thought of having evolved from mermaids! but unfortunately scientists seem to be convinced that we evolved from the less glamorous lung fish, also the lobed fined fish the Coelacanth, and a webbed footed tetrapod (a scary looking lizard at that). Now, their fins and webbed ‘hands and toes’ are very well adapted for swimming as they live in the ocean but since we became land animals, we ve lost this pronounced webbing and instead have digits, which are totally useless for swimming but great for walking and grabbing things. Mermaids also have an interesting history… sailors coined the term mermaid. They would see mermaids in the ocean, a kind of hallucination which in reality was a manatee. Manatees are sea cows that actually evolved from land mammals and eventually returned to the ocean – they are related (very long ways away, but still some relationship) to elephants. This is a manatee (the sailors’ “mermaids”): Notice it’s elephant like fins with fingernails! So, mermaids exist but in the form of manatees, and we did evlove from marine animals but the less glamorous fish and tetrapods rather than beautiful mermaids! I really enjoyed answering this question 🙂