Paper - Pads on the palm and sole of the human foetus

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Johnson RH. Pads on the palm and sole of the human foetus. (1899) Amer. Naturalist. 33: 729-734

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This 1899 historic paper describes hand and foot pads development in the embryo. See links below for the modern notes.

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Pads on the Palm and Sole of the Human Foetus

Roswell H. Johnson


In examining the soles of the feet of human foetuses of two and three months, I have found four distinct dome-like elevations situated interdigitally along the line of the metatarso-phalangeal joints. Similar mounds were found in the corresponding position upon the palm, there being, however, only three true mounds in a transverse line. The thumb-index finger elevation was merely represented by the large thenar eminence. The reason for the absence of the true mound is probably that its presence would interfere with the opposition of the thumb. Upon the palm the mounds are less distinct, and in the older foetuses the well-defined outline becomes lost, leaving only an elevation comparable to the " mounts " of the palmists, to which Wilder ('97) has called attention. The mounds on the sole are succeeded by the smooth "ball" of the foot of the adult in embryos of about one hundred millimeters in length.

Unfortunately the poor preservation of many of the specimens resulting from the inevitable exigencies of their collection and preservation make it impossible to determine precisely the stage of development attained by the pads in the various cases. This difficulty and the gradual increase to a maximum with the subsequent gradual decrease prevent a precise statement of the stages of development of the foetus where the pads are evident. The accompanying table shows the conditions found in the embryos examined, with the exception of a few cases of very bad preservation. It is believed by the author that the variation shown is the result of the preservation and not a real individual variation. This cannot be definitely stated however.

Fig 1 . Plantar surface of the right foot of foetus, No. 259 Minot collection. The method of stippling causes the mounds to appear with too sharp outlines.

No. in
Collection Length
in mm
Condition of Pads
on Feet
Condition of Pads
on Hands
67 H.M.C. 31 Slightly developed
58 P.&S. 36 Slightly developed Slightly developed
2 P.&S. 42 Well developed Well developed
32 P.&S. 44 Well developed Well developed
21 P.&S. 55 Well developed Fairly developed
249 H. M. C. 57 Well developed " Mounts " barely shown.
N. Y. L. I. H. 65 Well developed
183 H.M.C. 69 Fairly developed Fairly developed on one hand.
6 P.&S. 70 Slightly developed Not present as pads
110 H.M.C. 76 Slightly developed Not present as pads
20 P.&S. 80 Well developed Fairly developed
149 H.M.C. 85 Fairly developed Not present as pads
30 P.&S. 97 Not present Not present as pads
8 P.&S. 100 Poorly developed Faintly developed
3 H.M.C. 103 Not present Not present as pads
216 H.M.C. 104 Not present Not present as pads
51 P.&S. 105 Scarcely discernible Not present as pads
10 P.&S. 115 Not present Not present as pads
12 P.&S. 120 Not present Not present as pads
68 H.M.C. 120 Scarcely discernible Not present as pads
239 H.M.C. 150 Scarcely discernible Not present as pads

H. M. C. = Harvard Medical School Collection. P.&S. = Collection of College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia Univ. N.Y. L. I. H. = Collection of New York Lying-in Hospital.

Sections (Figs. 2 and 3) show the pad to be the result of the growth of the mesodermic tissue beneath, rather than an epidermic thickening. A cross-section (Fig. 4) of the right hind foot of a cat embryo in the region of the Anlagen of the walking pads shows an essential similarity in their form, position, and structure with the mounds on the human foetal foot (Fig. 2).

Since the interdigital position precludes the possibility of the mounds being merely contour lines resulting from the influence of the joints or digits, we may infer from the fact that the position is characteristic of walking pads that we have here structures of this kind. Further evidence lies in the fact that in the baboons we have in the same positions upon the palm and sole strongly developed mounds with marked patterns of the epidermic ridges, and that in man there are upon the palms and soles "patterns" (Galton) or "centers of disturbance" (Wilder) of the epidermic ridges at these points. Seldom, however, do we find them all present upon one palm or sole.

Fig. 2. — Cross-section of the left foot of the same foetus. Section 193 G 48 in collection of slides in Harvard Medical School. Roman numerals = metatarsal bones. Arabic numerals = number of mound.

Fig. 3. — Longitudinal section of the right foot of the same foetus. Section 194 H 20 in Harvard collection.

Typically there is but one pattern upon the adult hand and two upon the adult foot. The accompanying table shows the relative frequency of occurrences of the several patterns in the adult.

  Number of
Thenar Patterns
Number of
Radial or Tibial Patterns
Number of
Median Patterns
Number of
Fibular or Ulnar Patterns
200 hands 17 = 8.5 % 13 = 6.5% 129 = 64.5% 62 = 32.5 %
41 feet 39 = 95- 1 % 9 = 21.9% 32 = 78.1 % 5 = 12.1 %

It will be noticed that with the exception of the ulnar-fibular pattern the occurrence of any pattern is more frequent in the case of the feet than in the case of the hands, as might be expected from the poorer development of the mounds upon the foetal palm.

The ulnar-fibular pattern is remarkable not only for the fact that it is the only one of the four metatarso-phalangeal patterns which occurs less frequently in the feet than in the hands, but also for the fact that of these four " centers " it is the only one which occurs more frequently in the female than the male, as the following table shows.

Cases in 200 Male Hands Cases in 200 Female Hands
Thenar 12 5
Radial-tibial 9 4
Median 75 54
Ulnar-fibular 25 40
Hypothenar 29 37
  • The hypothenar pattern is one not in the metatarso-phalangeal series. See Figs. 5 and 6.

I am under great obligations to Dr. C. B. Davenport, for suggestions and criticisms ; to Professor C. Sedgwick Minot, for kindness in allowing me to examine his collection of foetuses and to section the feet figured, and for suggestions and criticism; to Professor H. H. Wilder, for the use of a series of footprints ; and to Dr. J. A. Blake, for permission to examine the collection of foetuses of Columbia University.

Fig. 4. — Cross-section of the right hind foot of a cat foetus in region of the Anlage of the walking pad. Section 195 B 109 in Harvard collection. Roman numerals = metatarsal bones. Arabic numerals = number of mound.


  1. There are upon the sole of the human foetus of two to three months four mounds situated interdigitally along the line of the metatarso-phalangeal joints. Three mounds exist in a similar situation upon the palm of the foetus of the same age. In the foot the mounds disappear. Upon the hand they persist as the less definite " mounts " of palmistry.
  2. These mounds are homologous with the walking pads of some mammals, and have a direct relation to the " centers of disturbance " of the epidermic ridges upon the palms and soles of man and other primates.
  3. Corresponding with a poorer development of these mounds upon the hand than on the foot in the foetus, the " centers of disturbance " occur upon the foot more frequently than upon the hand in the adult.

Fig. 5. — Palm of a foetus of Evotomys gapperi.

Fig. 6. — Palm of Inuus (from Kollmann after Purkinje).

Harvard University, May 23, 1899


Alix, M. Recherches sur la disposition des lignes papillaires de la main et du pied. Ann. des Set. Nat. Tome viii, 1867, pp. 295-362, et Tome ix, 1868, pp. 5-42, avec Pis. 2-5. Galton, Francis. Finger Prints. London, 1892.

Klaatsch, H. Zur Morphologie der Tastballen der Saiigethiere. Morph. Jahrb. Bd. xiv, pp. 407-435, Tomes xvii and xviii, 1888.

Kollmann, Arthur. Der Tastapparat der Hand der menschlichen Rassen und der Affen in seiner Entwicklung und Gliederung. Hamburg and Leipzig. Tomes i and ii, pp. 1-75, 1883.

Purkinje. Commentatio de examine physiologico organi visus et systemmatis cutanei. Vratislav, 1823.

Wilder, H. H. On the Disposition of the Epidermic Folds upon the Palms and Soles of the Primates. Anat. Anz. Bd. xiii, pp. 250 256, 1897.

Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2024, April 17) Embryology Paper - Pads on the palm and sole of the human foetus. Retrieved from

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