The volar skin of primates: its frictional characteristics and their functional significance

Am J Phys Anthropol. 1979 May;50(4):497-509. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.1330500402.


Friction of volar skin on wood is not proportional to load in human beings and prosimians, but to load raised to a fractional power. This meets theoretical expectations for the frictional characteristics of convex elastic surfaces. Although this enables small clawless primates to cling to steeper slopes and larger vertical supports than would otherwise be possible, the magnitude of the effect is not great enough to overcome the disadvantages of clawlessness in climbing vertical or steeply-sloping tree trunks and branches. In human subjects, friction appears to be more nearly proportional to load than in small prosimians used as experimental subjects. It is suggested that this is due to the fact that the small animals have discrete, elevated volar pads. Pad coalescence in large primates may be an adaptation for increasing the power to which load must be raised to become proportional to friction; increasing this exponent yields more friction per unit of adduction force on supports that are small relative to the animals' dimensions and weights.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Galago
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Lemur
  • Locomotion
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*
  • Species Specificity
  • Strepsirhini / physiology*