The Family Inheritance

by Deb on May 9, 2011

Tongue Rolling

My Dad can wiggle his ears. As kids we thought this was screamingly funny, and family dinners often seemed to end with shouts of ‘Wiggle your ears, Dad! Wiggle your ears!’ We thought this was an extremely rare and esoteric skill, but many years later I married someone who could also do it, and now the big girl has worked it out too. I’m surrounded by ear wigglers.

What was even funnier for us kids was that my mother can’t roll her tongue. This simple for most of us, probably completely useless skill, is genetic. You either can or you can’t, and it gave us hours of entertainment when she would obligingly try. She is getting the last laugh, because the little girl doesn’t appear able to roll hers either, as you can see in the photo. Inheritance strikes again.

There are all sorts of funny, seemingly irrelevant things about your body that are genetic, and it’s great fun to compare. Dominant traits means one of your parents must have it, and you can inherit it from one person. A recessive trait means your parents might not show the trait, but they have the gene and you got a copy from both of them. It hasn’t got anything to do with how common they are. There are lots of other ways of inheriting things, but dominant/recessive are the simplest.

I’ve got a little list to get you started and a fun poll – I thought it be interesting to see how many people out there can wiggle and roll!

  • Mid-digital Hair – this is hair on the middle knuckle of your fingers, it is tiny and usually it’s easier to see the dots it grows out of than the hair itself. Check the fourth finger as it’s the most common. Having hair is dominant. mid-digital hairs
  • Hairline – A widow’s peak is when you have a point of hair in the middle of your forehead, like Dracula. It’s dominant.
  • Tongue rolling – This is the side to side roll making a tube. Rolling is dominant over non-rolling, so we can see how the little girl got non-rolling. It turns out that both her grannies can’t roll, so both my husband and I got a non-rolling gene from our Mums, and we both passed it on to the little one. We also both got a dominant rolling gene from our Dads, so we can roll ourselves, and at least one of us passed that to the big girl.
  • Hand crossing – When you lace your fingers together, does your left or right thumb end up on top? Believe it or not that is genetic, with left thumb on top being dominant.
  • Longest toe – when you look at your bare feet, is your big toe the longest or does the second toe stick out?  The second toe longest is dominant over big toe.
  • Hitchhiker’s thumb – the formal name for this is ‘distal hyperextensibility.’ It’s if your thumb bends backwards when you do a thumb’s up, and some people who bend backwards can’t bend forwards. Bending is recessive, straight is dominant.

And now for the polls, just because I think it would be fun to find out how many other non-rollers there are out there:

Can you roll your tongue?

View Results

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And for the wigglers, which isn’t simple genetics like the others but lots of fun:

Can you wiggle your ears?

View Results

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The big girl wiggling her ears. She got a bit of stage fright and couldn’t remember how to do it, but she got there.

Are there any weird and wonderful things your family can do? 🙂

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Leah - Bogue Living May 9, 2011 at 7:22 am

I can’t roll my tongue – in fact I can barely poke it out my mouth! Both my kids had tongue tie, but had them cut as infants, so I wonder if this is related to my poor range of tongue movement, even though the frenulum doesn’t look too tight. My 8yo who had the worse TT can roll her tongue and stick it far out so who knows?

I remember doing similar surveys in high school when we studied genetics, much fun 🙂


Deb May 9, 2011 at 8:35 pm

That’s interesting, it certainly sounds like you have a tongue tie, they must loosen up enough to talk. I’ve never heard of how it might affect rolling, although you can roll it inside your mouth so I’d suspect it doesn’t.


Tracey May 9, 2011 at 7:53 am

I can’t wiggle my ears, but I can wiggle my nose, I’ve been able to to it for as long as I can remember, but it doesn’t work when I’m when smiling. No one else in my family can do it, not even sure how I ever found out that I could.


Deb May 9, 2011 at 8:38 pm

That’s another cool one, I’ve never met a nose wiggler before.


Kate May 9, 2011 at 8:08 am

I love this post! My Mum can’t curl her tongue either, or click her fingers…so guess how my siblings and I spent hours of fun as children? Yep, curling our tongues and clicking our fingers at her. Luckily Mum saw the funny side 😉 My hubby and I can tongue curl, as can our nearly-7-yr-old, not our nearly-4-yr-old and bub is too young to tell lol.

Interestingly, both hubby and I have brown eyes. All three of our children have the most stunning blue eyes!! I love genetics 🙂


Deb May 9, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I love recessives, they can pop up anywhere. I hope you Mum is as pleased with her non-rolling grandchild as mine is!


John Lerch June 17, 2011 at 3:38 am

I’m an ear wiggler and a tongue roller. I don’t think I use the auricula superior muscle, only the posterior. I can wiggle just my left ear naturally; if I think about it hard enough I can wiggle my right ear only also. My right eye is dominant; but if I think about it hard enough, I can make my left eye the pointing eye with my left hand. As I drive past a picket fence I can see through the fence by focussing further out.
Practice looking straight ahead and being aware of what is at the edge of your vision like at right angles to straight ahead.


John Lerch June 17, 2011 at 3:55 am

Sorry, I forgot to mention my sister had to learn to wiggle her ears (and the range of motion is pretty small ); but she was a natural nose wiggler. I’m the other way around.
One other interesting question: Can non tongue rollers whistle (the normal kind of whistle)? I used to think everyone could whistle; but now I’m not so sure. Although I’m a natural easy tongue roller, it took me a while to learn to whistle. But when I did, it involves a small amount of tongue rolling .
We can raise just our left eye brow; but doing just the right has minimal motion (the opposite of Spock).
Also practice flexing just your pectoral muscle without flexing your arm muscles; and then practice flexing just 1 side of your pecs. Practice standing up without contracting your thigh muscles (IOW use just your rear end). Practice pulling something toward you using just the muscles in your back and no arm muscles. Bottom line (no pun): we seem genetically predisposed to overuse our limb muscles for actions better suited to torso muscles.


sabrina April 18, 2012 at 1:30 pm

I’m not particuarily sure if I’m a tongue roller or not. In fact its extremely painful to do and I can’t roll it up all the way, but I can do it fairly okay.
When I was young we learned my younger brother could do it at age 4, at first I couldn’t do it but with practice I figured it out. Like I did with my left eye to practice winking with or wiggling my eyebrows in grade 2. So I’m not even sure. But I sure the hell can whistle like a boss. ^-^
sabrina´s latest amazing offering ..Wordless Wednesday – A Billion Tiny MoonsMy Profile


Sarah Philips December 20, 2011 at 1:12 am

I am a non tongue roller and i can whistle 🙂


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