Do Animals Have Fingerprints?

Discover which animals possess "true" fingerprints, along with the ones who've evolved their version of this unique identifier.

May 6, 2023By Donna Hobson
do animals have fingerprints

Fingerprints are unique dermal ridges patterns on our fingertips' surface. These dermal ridges are formed in the womb and don't change throughout our lives. Each person's fingerprint is unique, making them a reliable form of identification. But have you ever wondered whether animals share this unique trait with us?

The answer is - sort of. Some animals do indeed have fingerprints that are remarkably similar to our own. And then there are the animals with other unique body parts, such as skin or noses, that we can use to identify them. Continue reading to learn more about the fingerprints of the animal world.

Which Animals Have Fingerprints?

great ape

There are a handful of animals who share our characteristic fingerprints. Unsurprisingly almost every one of these is a species of our closest relatives - the great apes.

Primates have fingerprints for a variety of reasons. For one, they provide primates with a better grip when they are grasping onto objects or tools. This helps them manipulate objects more easily and develop fine motor skills.

Do Any Animals Other Than Primates Have Fingerprints?

koala bear climbing tree stump

There is only one non-primate species known to have fingerprints - the koala.

Convergent evolution is a process in which species that are not closely related independently evolve similar features. This phenomenon occurs when different species adapt to similar environments and develop the same traits to survive. Convergent evolution allows for the emergence of similar features across species, even when they have evolved independently.

Koala fingerprints are virtually indistinguishable from a human's, which is incredible considering that our last common ancestor lived 100 million years ago.

While we cannot universally agree on the primary function of fingerprints, we know several benefits that these unique identifiers carry. They help to improve grip, prevent blisters, and increase touch sensitivity. We feel things because running our fingers over an object causes tiny vibrations in the skin. And a fingerprint can increase these vibrations by 100 times, making our fingers more sensitive than animals without fingerprints.

Koalas are fussy eaters and like to eat eucalyptus branches of a particular age. This increased fingertip sensitivity could help them to identify these premium branches and may be one of the reasons why they independently developed fingerprints. And other arboreal creatures have developed dermal ridges on their tails or feet to help aid their balance when moving through trees. Primates and koalas may be the only animals with fingerprints, but they aren't the only creatures to possess unique identifiers. Here is a selection of other unique features.

Zebra Stripes

zebra standing in the savannah

If there's one thing zebras are famous for, it's their black and white stripes. These stripes give the zebra a striking appearance and serve several vital purposes, such as protection against predators, thermoregulation, and a deterrent to insect bites.

Research is ongoing into the effectiveness of the stripes, but scientists have put several theories forward.

The striking stripes might stand out to us, but humans have a different vision of a zebra's biggest predator - the lion. These large cats are color-blind, meaning they see the world in grayscale. If a zebra is in tall grass, its colors will contrast against the green, making them easy for us to see. But when a lion looks at a zebra in tall grass, the varied shading may help it to blend in with the shades of the grass. Additionally, it's thought that when large herds of zebras run together, they may create an optical illusion that helps deter predators.

In addition, these stripes may help zebras to regulate their body temperature. Some scientists theorize that the black lines may absorb heat on cool mornings, which helps warm the zebra; then, in the afternoon heat, the white stripes can help deflect the sun's scorching rays.

And these stripes are useful for conservationists too. Every zebra's stripe pattern is unique, meaning it functions similarly to a human fingerprint when it comes to identification. This has allowed organizations to track and monitor species such as the Grevy's zebra.

Cat Nose Prints

close up kitty cat nose

Look at a cat's nose, and you'll notice that they have a series of small bumps and ridges along them, which aren't too dissimilar to the ridges of a fingerprint. This intricate nose design occurs because of the importance of smell. Scent is how cats explore the world, and they rely on their noses to lead them to prey, determine whether food is edible, track where you've been, and help them to navigate their way around.

Before opening its eyes for the first time, a newborn kitten can distinguish its mother's scent.

And these cat's noseprints are unique, just like human fingerprints. Some companies are already implementing nose print technology to identify individual cats (and dogs), and this could replace microchipping in the future as an easy (and painless) way to register pets to their owners.

Other Patterns, Prints, and Unique Identifiers

Giraffe mum and calf baby

Look at the animal kingdom, and you'll see that many species have unique identifiers. Here, we've covered just a few.

Other unique identifiers include giraffe’s spots or patterns. These spots help the giraffe blend into its environment and act as a kind of camouflage, and at the same time, they are unique to each giraffe and help us to tell individuals apart.

Painted turtles have a unique plastron - or belly - a pattern that helps humans to tell each individual apart. These patterns emerge as soon as the turtle is born but can become more complex as the turtle ages.

In addition, elephants might not possess "fingerprints," but they have unique footprints that are helping organizations such as Elephants for Africa distinguish each individual. Elephant footprints can also tell you their height; a male's shoulder height is roughly 5.8 times the length of the hind foot, while the females are approximately 5.5 times.

Donna Hobson
By Donna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.