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Common Characteristics of Fingerprints

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  • 0:03 Fingerprints: As Unique as You
  • 1:05 Characteristics of…
  • 2:25 Individualizing Patterns
  • 3:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

No two people are the same and neither are their fingerprints. These patterns on our fingers may look similar at first glance, but in this lesson you'll learn why each print is different, and how to distinguish their different characteristics.

Fingerprints: As Unique as You

Imagine you misplaced your smartphone and start panicking because there's a lot of personal information on that phone. You're worried because you don't want whoever picks it up to be able to access it. But then you remember that you secured it so that no one could use it, should this scenario ever arise. The only person your phone will unlock for is you, and it knows it's you because you use your fingerprint.

Fingerprints and also toe prints can be used to identify a single individual because they are unique to each person and they do not change over time. Amazingly, even identical twins have fingerprints that are different from each other, and none of your fingers have the same print as the others. Fingerprints consist of ridges, which are the raised lines, and furrows, which are the valleys between those lines. And it's the pattern of those ridges and furrows that are different for everyone.

The patterns of the ridges are what is imprinted on a surface when your finger touches it. If you get fingerprinted the ridges are printed on the paper and can be used to match fingerprints you might leave elsewhere.

Characteristics of Fingerprints

While each person's fingerprint is unique, there are three common characteristics that fingerprints consist of. Loops look like thin lassos, where the line goes out and loops back toward itself. Two types of loops exist: radial loops point toward the thumb (the radius bone) and ulnar loops point toward the pinky (ulna bone). This is the most common type of fingerprint characteristic.

Whorls are circular or spiral ridge lines. Four kinds of whorl patterns exist. There are plain whorls, which are your normal circles within circles. Then there is the pocket loop whorl, which actually starts as a loop but has a whorl at one end. There's also the double loop whorl, which is two loops going in opposite directions to make an 'S' shape. And finally, there is the accidental loop whorl, which has no distinct pattern at all and is just an irregularly shaped whorl. Whorls are the second most common type of fingerprint characteristic.

The third and final fingerprint characteristic is the arch. These lines look like a hill, starting low at one end, rising in the middle, and then going back down again on the other end. These wave-like lines come in two types: plain and tented, with tented arches looking more pinched in the middle, much like a tent in the woods. Arches are the least common fingerprint characteristic.

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