Why Do We Have Nails? Exploring The Evolutionary And Functional Purposes Of Fingernails And Toenails


Fingernails and toenails are an integral part of the human body, serving a variety of evolutionary and functional purposes. These structures are not just for aesthetic appeal but play crucial roles in protecting our fingers and toes, assisting in fine motor skills, and even providing sensory feedback. Let’s delve into the fascinating world of nails and explore why they have persisted throughout evolutionary history.

Evolutionary Origins

The presence of nails is a defining feature of primates, including humans, and is believed to have evolved from claws. Nails offer an evolutionary advantage by allowing for more precise manipulation of objects and enhanced grip. The transition from claws to nails is thought to have occurred as primates adapted to a more arboreal lifestyle, requiring greater dexterity.

Protective Function

One of the primary functions of nails is to protect the fingertips and toes from trauma and injury. The hard keratinized structure of nails acts as a shield, preventing damage to the underlying soft tissues. This protective function is especially important in activities that involve manual work or contact sports where the hands and feet are at risk of impact. Nails act as a barrier, reducing the risk of cuts, bruises, and infections to the delicate skin underneath.

Assistance in Fine Motor Skills

Nails play a crucial role in facilitating fine motor skills, such as picking up small objects, writing, and typing. The presence of nails allows for more precise and coordinated movements of the fingers and toes, enhancing our ability to manipulate objects with accuracy. This function is essential for tasks that require delicate control and precision. In addition, nails provide stability and support to the fingertips, improving grip and enhancing dexterity for various tasks that demand intricate hand movements.

Sensory Feedback

Additionally, nails provide sensory feedback to the brain, allowing us to sense and distinguish textures, temperatures, and objects. The nerves and blood vessels present in the nail bed contribute to our sense of touch and help us interact with our environment more effectively. This tactile feedback is vital for our overall perception and motor coordination. Nails also aid in proprioception, the body’s ability to sense its position in space, by providing feedback on pressure exerted during grasping and manipulating objects.


In conclusion, fingernails and toenails serve a variety of evolutionary and functional purposes that are essential for our daily activities and overall well-being. From their evolutionary origins as a tool for greater dexterity to their protective function and role in fine motor skills and sensory feedback, nails play a critical role in our lives. Understanding the significance of nails can help us appreciate the complexity and ingenuity of the human body’s design.

Arthur Marquis

With a background in dermatology and over 10 years of experience, Arthur covers a wide range of health-related subjects for the Scientific Origin.