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The opposable thumb on this lowland gorilla gives it a tremendous advantage, but it is not as useful as the opposable thumbs humans have.

Imagine holding a glass, working a shovel, brushing your teeth, manipulating a cell phone or, building something, anything, without the use of your thumbs. Thumbs are one of the things that separate humans from much of the rest of the animal world. They have shaped our history by allowing us to build and manipulate complex tools and weapons that would have been otherwise impossible to do.

Lots of animals have thumbs, but what makes humans different is that our thumbs are opposable. That means that our thumb is capable of being moved freely and independently and works in “opposition” to the fingers on the same hand. We can rotate our thumb to touch the tip of each of our other digits, fingerprint to fingerprint.

It is a short list of animals that can claim opposable thumbs. The ones that come closest to humans are the great apes with which we share 97 percent similarities in DNA. Other species that are often mentioned as having opposable thumbs include gibbons, most African and Asian monkeys, some new world monkeys, lemurs, possums (native to Australia and Indonesia) and opossums, giant pandas, red pandas, chameleons, and members of the tree frog family, Phyllomedusa, such as the waxy monkey leaf tree frog.

Other than the great apes, few, if any, of these species have true opposable thumbs. For instance, with the giant panda and the red panda (completely unrelated species), their “thumb” is actually an elongated section of the carpal bone, which is part of the wrist. It is often referred to as a false thumb, but it serves the purpose of an opposable thumb allowing the animals to grasp branches while climbing. However, the “thumb” doesn’t rotate or bend, rather, the fingers move toward it.

With most of the other species mentioned, the thumbs vary quite a bit and most are referred to as pseudo-opposable, meaning that they function like an opposable thumb—they can move—but are not quite as or even close to as useful as a truly opposable thumb. They can grasp branches or food, but manipulation of tools and complex items is limited.

Some species have a big toe on the hind foot that is opposable as well. Others, such as the chameleons, split each foot so that two digits act as thumbs and three as fingers/toes. The tree frogs do not use their “thumb” for anything but climbing, but it serves them well there.

Although our thumb contains only two joints as compared to three joints on each finger, it is longer than that of other primates. Because of this, we are unique in that we can touch the tips of our thumb and little finger, creating greater opportunities in dexterity. In addition, we have more and larger muscles controlling our thumb than any other primate. Together, this gives us greater strength for precision grips and the best dexterity in the animal kingdom.

Just to prove how important our opposable thumbs are, I offer readers a challenge. Using some easily removeable tape, temporarily fasten your thumb against the side of your hand. With you thumb immobilized, attempt to do some of the common functions you do each day. For instance, try eating soup with a spoon. Try picking up a quarter from the floor. Try to open a jar or put a lid on a bottle of milk.  I think you will find that most of these simple tasks become more complex, requiring the use of both hands or tools or both. Some may just seem impossible at first.

Due to injuries, I have had occasion to have to live temporarily without one of my thumbs. I quickly came to appreciate just how important this trait is in making us uniquely human.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho