WTF Fun Fact 12748 – Koala Bears Have Fingerprints

Koala bears have fingerprints just like apes and humans. This is surprising since our last common ancestor lived over 100 million years ago.

Nevertheless, koalas have retained their unique fingerprints.

We tend to think of fingerprints as solely a product of our criminal justice system. And yet, those little lines on our fingers actually serve a purpose besides putting us at a crime scene.

The purpose of fingerprints

Our fingerprints help us grab and feel objects, and researchers believe they help our sense of touch. This isn’t so important to us anymore, but it is helpful to animals who can use touch sensations to judge whether leaves, for example, belong to the right tree.

Our fingerprints actually cause little vibrations when we run them over objects. And since koalas really only eat eucalyptus, they like to be sure they’re in the midst of the right kind of buffet before they start chowing down.

Fingerprints are unique

Since you can’t really tell a koala’s fingerprint from a human’s, at least in terms of patterns, they may be the perfect sidekick for a crime scene. There’s no koala bear fingerprint database, so you can pretty much just let them touch everything to upend an investigation (just kidding – don’t try this at home – or anywhere else for that matter).

However, if a koala at a zoo has committed a crime, theoretically, you could fingerprint the residents to figure out whodunnit. We don’t think that’s ever been a necessity, but it sounds like a good premise for a children’s crime novel (if those existed).

Koalas bears have fingerprints and other animals have…

While koala bears have human-like fingerprints, other animals have identifying marks on their paw pads as well.

According to New Scientist (cited below):

Individual cats and dogs, for example, have unique whisker patterns. Zebras have distinct stripe arrangements and individual leopards and spotted dolphins have their own spot patterns. Humpback whales also have unique markings on the underside of their tails.”

Who knew?  WTF fun facts

Source: “Do other animals have fingerprints? And what purpose do they serve?” — New Scientist

WTF Fun Fact 12560 – The First Fingerprint Conviction

In 1910, Clarence Hiller confronted an intruder in his home, tackling him as both men fell down the stairs. Hiller was then shot, and the suspect ran away.

Paroled 6 weeks prior, Thomas Jennings was convicted of the crime. He was stopped by police when they saw he was wearing a bloody coat. But that wasn’t what got him convicted.

While investigating the scene of the break-in, police noticed that the intruder had grabbed a freshly-painted railing while boosting himself into the Hiller family’s window. They cut off the piece of the railing as evidence and presented it in court, comparing it to Jennings’ fingerprint.

Criminal justice scholars have proved that the way we use fingerprint evidence is not always in the best interests of justice, nor are fingerprints always accurately interpreted. In fact, our fingerprints even change over the course of our lifetimes, so an old fingerprint may rule out an actual criminal caught decades later.

But in 1910, this type of evidence was a first for a criminal case and the jury needed to be convinced that each person’s fingerprints are unique. Unfortunately for Jennings, that proof came from his defense attorney.

W.G Anderson rightly questioned the use of such poorly-understood evidence to convict a person, but it was his own fingerprint that would convince the jury of his client’s guilt.

Anderson challenged the forensic experts to lift his fingerprint from a piece of paper. They did. But his big plan was to solicit fingerprints from the general public to show just how shoddy the science of fingerprinting was. Alas, we do all have unique fingerprints and while there are often problems in our interpretations, this little experiment did nothing but convince the jury that fingerprint evidence was solid.

Of all the fingerprints collected, none looked like Anderson’s. The jury voted unanimously to convict Jennings, who was sentenced to hang.

In their coverage, The Decatur Herald noted that “the murderer of Hiller wrote his signature when he rested his hand upon the freshly painted railing at the Hiller home.” –  WTF fun fact

Source: “The First Criminal Trial That Used Fingerprints as Evidence” — Smithsonian Magazine