Why do we have fingerprints?
The usual answer from students (and most adults!) is “So we can be uniquely identified.” This is the right answer to the wrong question! The uniqueness of fingerprints does make them useful in identification, but is not why our primate ancestors needed them. So we discussed why fingerprints might have evolved (to increase grip), and how they develop uniquely in each individual. Students learned how the uniqueness and permanence of friction ridges on people’s fingertips make fingerprints an excellent way of identifying individuals. They classified the different patterns that friction ridges can form on the fingertips, which include arches, loops, and whorls. Playing forensic scientists for a day, they practiced dusting for prints, classifying fingerprints, and identifying their own fingerprint patterns.