From wisdom teeth to your tailbone, here are 13 of the most useless body parts!
- Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth are the third and final set of molars that most people get in their late teens or early twenties. With all the money spent on removing them and all the pain that one has to endure during the process, it’s frustrating to know that wisdom teeth don’t serve any practical purpose. They are simply the remnants our ancestors’ teeth, who had larger jaws than we currently do. The reason why wisdom teeth have no use anymore is because human jaws have become smaller as they evolved, leaving little space for wisdom teeth to grow in comfortably. Another theory suggests that early humans used to lose their teeth quickly as they aged, so wisdom teeth could take the place of lost teeth and allow them to eat normally (and thus survive) for longer. Now they just cause all kinds of problems if they are misaligned such as jaw and nerve damage as well as infections that can be extremely painful.
- Body Hair and Arrector Pili
We all know about body hair, but what exactly are arrector pili? These are the smooth muscle fibers that give humans the peculiar sensation we commonly call “goose bumps”. If the arrector pili are activated, hair that come out of the nearby follicles stands up, giving us those famous goose bumps on our skin. Goose bumps are important to certain animals (like cats), which use those hairs on the body to swell up and make themselves look ‘bigger’ than they actually are. But human body hair is so small and fine that it does little more than give us a shiver, or let us know that something is frightening us! Yes, you can say that body hair protects us from the cold, and the hair on our head may help you look stylish, but that’s about it for legitimate functions of human body hair and arrector pili.
The evolutionary purpose of eyebrows is debatable: In one camp, scientists believe brows keep sweat and rain off your eyes, which would help in primitive hunting and navigation. Moreover, diverting the sweat away is also beneficial as the salt in sweat irritates the eyes, making them sting. Other scientists favor the hypothesis that eyebrows serve to communicate your emotions, but they may also communicate your identity. Behavioral neuroscientists from MIT found that people were less likely to recognize pictures of celebrities without their eyebrows than without their eyes. The researchers speculate that eyebrows have remained because they’re crucial to identifying faces and navigating social circumstances.
Although we don’t sport these animalian appendages anymore, our ancestors once had tails. Tails were used to maintain balance while we walked, but as the human body evolved, the need for a tail disappeared. The tailbone, or coccyx, is situated at the end of the spinal cord. When we did have tails, this part of our anatomy was vital to our survival and balance. However, as tails disappeared, so did the functions of the tailbone. While we don’t really need it, it has been suggested that the coccyx helps to anchor minor muscles and may support the pelvic organs, so, it’s better to not underestimate its existence in the human body.
- Male Nipples
This has been a topic of significant discussion over the years, and has sparked all kinds of weird arguments, one even stating that ‘men have descended from women’. This isn’t true, but if you want to know the real reason behind male nipples, one has to go pretty far back, all the way to your time as a fetus. Both men and women have nipples because in the early stages of fetal development, an unborn child is effectively sexless meaning it has no gender yet. Thus, nipples are present on both males and females. During the later stages of fetal development, it is ‘testosterone’, a hormone, that decides the gender of the fetus – either male or female. It should be noted that certain males have been found to lactate and there have been numerous cases of breast cancer in males.
- Third Eyelid
This is the part of the eye that you can see at the corner of the eye (next to the tear duct). Although certain animals, like dogs, reptiles and fish, need it for a variety of functions and protected vision, humans do not need this third eyelid to maintain proper vision or survival. This doesn’t mean that the third eyelid does nothing and just sits there. When we move our eyes, the third eyelid (plica semilunaris) ensures proper tear drainage and sweeps debris away from the eye. For anyone who has ever walked along a windy beach, we can appreciate that particular function, right?
- Darwin’s Point
Around the sixth week of gestation, six swellings of tissue called the Hillocks of Hiss arise around the area that will form the ear canal. These eventually come together to form the outer ear. Darwin’s point, or tubercle, is a minor malformation of the junction of the fourth and fifth Hillocks of Hiss. It is found in a minority of people and takes the form of a node or bump on the rim of their outer ear, which is thought to be the vestige of a joint that allowed the top part of the ancestral ear to swivel or flop down over the opening to the ear. Technically considered a defect, Darwin’s point does no harm and is surgically removed for cosmetic reasons only. However, the genetics behind it tells an interesting tale. The trait is passed on according to an autosomal dominant pattern, meaning that a child needs to only inherit one copy of the gene responsible to have Darwin’s point. That suggests that at one time it was useful. However, it also has variable penetration, meaning that you won’t necessarily have the trait even if you inherit the gene.
No, that little indent under your nose isn’t there to make it difficult to apply lipstick in the dark, but it doesn’t serve any other purpose either. The indent, called the philtrum, is just a residual reminder of your time in the womb: in utero, the two sides of your face develop independent of one another, then join at the middle. When the two sides fail to fuse properly, the result is a cleft palate, which occurs in about 1 of every 750 births. Ancient Romans found the philtrum erotic, and named that dip in the upper lip the “Cupid’s Bow.” In fact, the word philtrum comes from a Greek term meaning “love potion.” If you’ve seen makeup tutorials on YouTube, you will know that women still highlight their cupid’s bow to emphasize it, but they may not know exactly why! 2000 years later, it’s still sexy!