From blushing to itching — quirky gifts Mother Nature granted us, and how they help. Turns out, the wrinkles that appear on our fingertips when we’re having a soak in the tub are nature’s answer to slippery fingers and help us grip better. Who knew? Newcastle University experts made the discovery, and many other researchers have questioned why our bodies do what they do too.With their constant leaking, creaking, throbbing and burping, our bodies often embarrass us. But while they do let us down from time to time, they are also the product of millions of years of evolution.
So what other quirky gifts did Mother Nature grant us?
Like it or lump it, the funny little pimples we get when we’re cold are good for us. They heat us up as quickly as possible, and are a hangover from our days on all fours when we were covered in fur, the journal Scientific American says. Goose bumps are caused by muscles contracting, allowing hairier people to retain more heat.
This mysterious sensation has baffled scientists for years but without it we would be lost. Dr Zhou- Feng Chen, a professor at the Washington University School of Medicine Pain Center, calls it a ‘perception’. For humans, for example, it is the equivalent to a cat’s whiskers. Nerves in the skin send signals to the brain ringing alarm bells that something is not quite right. The urgent desire to make it go away leads to our scratching. But while this sometimes brings intense pleasure, it can also be the worst thing you can do.
According to psychologists from Cambridge University, blushing has evolved as a product of the communication and social interaction with other human beings. It signals to others that we are upset or embarrassed and that they should perhaps leave us alone. Think about that the next time you are cheeky.
There was a time when most people would have felt the rush of adrenaline through their bodies at the howl of a wolf pack. But these days we are more likely to feel it outside a kebab shop on a Friday night when the local bruiser kicks off. The heart races, limbs feel wobbly and there’s a heightened sense of everything around — do you fight, or take flight? This is nature’s high octane method of keeping us alive in threatening situations and without these rapid-fire changes, not many of us would have made it this far. The term fight or flight was first coined in 1932 by Harvard Medical School professor Walter Bradford Cannon.
The opposite to goose bumps, sweating keeps us cool — and a little stinky too. Although it often makes us feel hotter, it is essential, otherwise we would suffer heatstroke and die on one of those rare hot days in the summer. According to the Journal of Applied Physiology, we have around two million sweat glands.
It’s not nice, of that there is no doubt. And millions of us will be producing bucket loads of the stuff at the moment. But researchers at the University of Waikato in New Zealand revealed how mucus is actually one of nature’s ingenious traps. It evolved to prevent nasty germs making it through our noses and into our lungs, where they could do a lot more damage. Now that’s not something to sneeze at, is it?
While mucus provides a barrier against viruses entering our bodies through our airways, its side-kick sneezing is evolution’s solution to getting rid of the germs for good. But people do not just sneeze when they have a cold. The body developed it as a way of combating allergens. Common pub mythology says our sneezes can hit 100mph but the Discovery Channel revealed the average is 40mph.
Try as you might to hold them in, sometimes the tears just have to come out. And according to Professor Randolph Cornelius, of Vassar College New York, not only do they moisten our eyeballs, tears also act as a signal to those closest to us. The theory is that, crying developed as discreet signal to convey that we were vulnerable, which predators could not pick up on.