Ever look down at your feet and wonder why your toes look and move the way they do? You might even have heard the myth that having a second toe longer than your first (something orthopaedic surgeon Dudley Morton dubbed Morton's Toe) means you are more likely to be a criminal, or part of a royal family.
While having toes of different lengths (some longer or shorter than others) is completely normal, some people are so concerned about the size and shape of their toes that they get them shortened by a cosmetic surgeon. Other people need surgery on their toes and feet because the shape makes walking painful.
We all have toes of slightly different shapes and sizes, but did you know that human beings as a whole have comparatively shorter toes than most primates, including our closest relative, the chimpanzee? Compare us to other animals like cats and dogs, and you'll notice that their toes are REALLY short compared to the rest of their paws. What's going on here?
The researchers behind a new paper about the evolution of human toes think that the answer to why humans evolved such short toes might be related to long-distance running. According to researchers, having shorter toes - along with a number of other adaptations - probably gave our ancestors an edge when it came to endurance running, which was necessary to kill and eat large animals. This article from Wired Science explains:
"...many modern anatomical features make sense in the context of savannah marathons. Achilles tendons act as springs to store energy. Our hind limbs have extra-large joints. Our buttocks muscles are perfect for stabilization, as are regions of the brain uniquely sensitive to the physical pitching generated by the motion of running. Toes may belong to this class of adaptations."
I've never been able to run a marathon, but this is still pretty cool news. Now, you might be asking yourself what will happen over time to the shape of human toes now that we no longer have to run down our dinner? According to toe researcher Campbell Rolian, "that's generally a question you could ask about many features of the human anatomy," said Rolian. Because it isn't required to push off, he said, "There's talk about whether the pinkie toe is eventually going to disappear."
Not the pinkie toe?! That one is my favorite.
Source: Wired Science