Are Human Toes Technically Vestigial?

So I was looking at my toes today and thinking about them and stuff and I wondered; do human toes count as vestigial structures? They no longer have the dexterity and gripping power of our ancestors, and the shoes we wear completely cover over their form. Wearing mittens on our hands 24/7 would be extremely difficult, but we do the equivalent with our feet all the time.

Now, admittedly, I haven't had the courage of my convictions to test my theory and lop off my footfingers. I understand they play a part in balance, but to what extent? If you took off equal toes on both sides, would you still be balanced?

9 Answers

  • TJ
    Lv 6
    1 decade ago
    Favourite answer

    Vestigial structures are those that have lost their primary or main function through the evolutionary process, although they may still maintain some kind of function. One of the best clues to whether a structure is vestigial is the presence of similar, functional structures in other organisms. The technical definition of vestigial organs is an organ for which the function does not confer enough of a survival advantage to be retained via evolution, as compared to the random effect of mutation.

    For instance, canines and felines have the ability to make endogenous (self-produced) vitamin C; this ability is coded in the form of a series of functional genes within their DNA. Primates, including humans, have lost the ability to make the vitamin endogenously, although they retain a non-functional copy of the gene within their DNA. This broken gene is a vestigial structure: it was functional at one time but has since lost that quality.

    Each of the structures that you describe above has functional analogues in other parts of the animal kingdom, but humans have lost the primary function in each case.

    The coccyx is the remnant of what would be the bones of the tail; it still serves as a point of muscular attachment, but obviously no longer functions as a tail.

    Many animals have the ability to move their ears to more closely determine the direction of incoming sounds (e.g., felines, canines, deer, and horses). Humans retain those muscles, but they are mostly nonfunctional; even in people who can move their ears, this ability has a negligible effect on hearing.

    In animals that have significant amounts of fur, the ability to move it (termed piloerection) has a significant effect on heat retention. Humans have lost essentially all of their body hair, but do retain the muscles of piloerection; erection of hair can still be achieved but has little effect.

    Similarly, the muscles that move the big toe are responsible for grip and stability in tree-dwelling primates. Obviously, this ability has little significance for humans today.

    The wisdom teeth were useful when humans ate diets consisting primarily of plant matter; large, flat teeth are useful for grinding down plant tissue, which was essential when human diets were plant-heavy. We lack the ability to efficiently digest cellulose, which could be compensated for to some extent by the increased mastication resulting from wisdom teeth. Since then, we have also changed diets to de-emphasize plant matter with a corresponding increase in protein. As such, wisdom teeth have little purpose today; for many people, the jaw has also regressed to the point where the wisdom teeth do not fit within the bone and must be removed surgically.

    The appendix is a remnant of part of the cecum, which in herbivores is more developed and responsible for the digestion of cellulose from plants. Humans have since switched to a more protein-heavy diet, and the function of the cecum in digestion of plant matter has since become much less important.

    Source(s): The following website has a brief discussion of the vestigiality of the appendix, wisdom teeth, and coccyx:
  • 1 decade ago

    No. Toes are used for balance, as you said. This is very important for 2-legged creatures. Also, when we walk we use our toes and balls of our feet to propel us. Try walking up an incline on your heels.

    It's more likely that prehensile toes are specialized, rather than the other way around. Many animals (cats, dogs, etc) don't have the ability to grip with their toes.

  • 4 years ago


    Source(s): Impotence Relief
  • MatT
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Definitely NOT.

    Vestigial organs are defined as having no purpose - but toes:

    1) Are needed to feel PAIN. They are indicators of the body's level of temperature.

    2) Are needed for BALANCE. They are needed to ensure bone stability in the foot.

    3) Are needed for GRASPING. We burrow our toes in the sand and in swimming to help us walk faster.

    Diabetic patients whose big or little toe had been removed have had difficulties in maintaining their balance.

    Remember that most of the pressure in the foot is transmitted to the big toe. Now naturally if you cut it off, then balance would be disrupted.

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    > Are Human Toes Technically Vestigial?

    Nope. We use them in bipedal walking and running.

    I would not miss my little toes, but any others I would certainly miss. Try walking and feeling where your weight goes at different points in your step.

  • 1 decade ago

    "Vestigial" means tiny and useless.

    Toes are neither. They are clearly visible, they have nerves which means they can give both pleasure and pain, and they are capable of rudimentary grasping. They also help with balance.

    In theory you could learn to write with your toes. There are some other nice things you can do with your toes, which I won't go into!

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    no, apparently your little toe and your big toe are incredibly important for balance

    I don't know where i heard that though...

    but dont chop your toes off anyway

  • 1 decade ago


  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    no !!! maybe yours only lol!

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