Let Me Give You a Hand

From the September 1996 issue of the APJ (Vol.50, No.3)

Detective Senior Sergeant Barry Fay

This article reveals a strange but fascinating correlation in nature; with an insight into identification pro­cedures. Although the amazing coincidences are perhaps ear­marked for those of you who collect such trivia, I must stress that the facts are for comparison purposes only, and as such should not be confused with anything of a criminal nature.

Fingerprints of a giant. Note how the author’s hand fits neatly into the palm!


The main photograph above is a simulation of the largest hand print in the world, assuming that creatures such as the Abominable Snowman and Bigfoot are mere figments of the imagination. How would you like to tackle the problem of fingerprinting the rascal? For that matter you could be in deep water by merely shaking his hand, let alone struggling with him during the inking process. Actually, the man’s hand measured twelve-and-three-quarter inches from the wrist to the tip of his middle finger or, in metric terms, about 32.5cm. The page you are reading is approximately 29cm deep, so, a reasonable analogy would show an open hand about the size of the webbed area of a tennis racquet. Imagine having a hand that big! But don’t be alarmed by all this: it’s highly unlikely that you will ever be placed in the position of arresting such a man 

Actually, I discovered this giant in the Guinness Book of Records. His name, of course, was Robert Pershing Wadlow, a name perhaps familiar some of you. He was born in the U.S.A. on 22 February 1918 and was considered normal at birth (weight 3.8kg). However, this was perhaps the only normal stage of his entire life because shortly afterwards he really started to grow and at five years of age he was five feet tall (163cm). By the time he was 10, his height had increased to around six feet six (196cm). At 15, he was a little under eight feet tall and eventually grew to the amazing height of 272cm or, in the old measurement, just a smidgin under nine feet. 

It was reported that before reaching his tenth birthday he could carry his father up a flight of stairs, and of course, all the school bullies left him well alone. But his gargantuan size was also quite a handicap and obviously contributed to his early death on 15 July 1940. And although he was 22 years of age at that time, he had still been growing! His greatest recorded weight was 222kg. His coffin measured almost eleven feet long and three feet wide!

At this point I would like to bring to the reader’s attention yet another phenomenon in nature which relates to contrast with this giant’s handprint. Like all humans, he had patterns of corrugated skin on the insides of his hands to assist his grip. These skin formations are generally referred to by the layman as fingerprint lines, but are known to the experts as friction ridges. 

Considering all the facts, the giant’s palmprint (below) may have easily contained the largest friction ridge skin in the world. So what, might you ask, is the smallest? Could it for example be the tiny hand prints of a young pygmy? Or perhaps, the minute skin markings on the feet of a baby mouse?


Before revealing what I consider to be the answer to this puzzle, I ask you to cast your eyes on the below photograph on the right which is an enlarged segment of the skin referred to. The photo was sent to me by Mr Wesley Green, a biochemist working at Sydney University. He, in fact, discovered the patterns by chance whilst experimenting with certain household pests. 

Unbelievably, it is a mere dustmite – an insect so tiny it requires considerable magnification just to see it. But Mr Green has been studying these creatures for some time and captured this particular pose after the mite had been magnified over 300 times. You will no doubt see the uncanny likeness between its skin and the handprint in question. Indeed, they have the same minute configurations that are required by a fingerprint expert to make an identification. Dare one suggest that every pattern is different? There is, I might add, no valid reason to believe otherwise. 

The house dustmite

If this is true, it certainly reinforces the belief that nothing in nature is duplicated. It has also been suggested that there could be a link here to our common ancestors on the evolutionary chain. A correlation also exists between these skin ridges and the insect’s diet: after all, they feed almost entirely on scales of human skin, and even look like a tiny flake of skin. Of course, their particular ridge formations may simply be natural camouflage. Alternatively, they may have evolved like our own and, possibly, give them an extra grip as they crawl between layers of matted fabric in search of food. Just for the record, Mr Green informs me that the average household will support about 7,000 of these pests on every square metre of blanket.

It makes me wonder, just how much skin we are shedding!

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