Which of these traits do you have?
Theories on evolution have existed since ancient times, with Ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle speculating that organisms grew and changed in accordance to some divine cosmic order. But our entire understanding of the process changed when Charles Darwin introduced his theory of natural selection.
According to Darwin, growth in population on the planet leads to a “struggle for existence” in which species must adapt to changing conditions in order to survive, thus leading to more advanced and well-suited physiologies.
Though some people still contest the reality of evolution, and while it takes place over such long periods of time as to make it hard to observe, there is proof of evolution right in your own body. The presence or absence of certain inherited physical traits that serve no clear purpose are our biggest indicators that we are the product of the lengthy process of evolution, and that our own species is slowly but surely adapting to our society and planet’s changing conditions.
Don’t believe us? Chances are you have plenty of vestigial traits, or organs and behaviors that have lost their function due to evolution. Here are some of the most obvious!
Extra Ear Muscles and Darwin’s Tubercle
Can you wiggle your ears? Or do you have a small point on the upper part of your ear helix?
Now think about animals you might commonly encounter like dogs or cats, and what happens to their ears when they hear sudden sounds: Their ears often perk up and change direction to better locate the origin of the noise.
As it turns out, humans still have the extrinsic ear muscles that enable such motion, but they’re often so weak now that the most some people can do is emit a slight wiggle. Some people also exhibit Darwin’s tubercle, a small point or thickening on the upper ear that is an atavistic feature, meaning its an evolutionary throwback of sorts to a trait that had previously disappeared.
Wisdom teeth were necessary in early humans to help them eat the large quantity of plants they needed to grind up and chew for their diets. As our diets changed, our jaws grew smaller, and there was no longer room for these extra teeth. Today, wisdom teeth commonly become impacted causing major dental and periodontal issues, so they are typically removed.
Now for a test! Lay your forearm flat on a table with your palm facing upwards. Now touch your thumb to your pinky and raise your hand slightly. Do you see a raised tendon coming from the bottom of your hand and headed into your arm? This is called your palmaris longus, and it is a vestigial muscle; in fact, about 14% of the population doesn’t have it. Doctors will commonly remove and use the palmaris longus in tendon grafts.
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