In our recent ‘bring your pet to class’ activity, one of my students brought her pet iguana for the show-and-tell program. Despite being a fourth-grader, I found that she knew a lot about this unique reptile.
I learned from my student that there is a whole world of creatures with scales, and they developed scales as part of evolution.
As animals evolved, some developed fur, some became hard-skinned while others have scales. All of these are a part of the protective mechanism of the creatures.
For example, in the case of fishes, their scales act as a protective mechanism to help make their movement smoother.
In this article, we will discuss ten animals that have scales and how this scaly layer mostly serves as a protective mechanism.
Animals that have scales
- Bearded Dragons
- Komodo Dragons
List of animals with scales:
Armadillos have a set of plates called carapaces that cover most of the creature’s body.
Transverse bands of bones form the carapace on the creature’s body. These bones are then covered with tough scales.
The hardening of the skin tissue forms these scales.
If you have observed armadillos closely, you will find that the creature’s scales cover the animal’s body almost like armor.
The creature is almost a wonder of evolution because the scales of an armadillo are one of the most challenging things on Earth.
There have been stories where bullets have been known to ricochet off the formidable scale of armadillos!
However, armadillos are not bulletproof; these are quite delicate creatures and need protection. It is the scales on the body of armadillos that help them to ward off predators.
It is a common notion that the tortoise shell is made of something entirely different, but in reality, the tortoise shell is made of scales.
If you have a pet tortoise, then pick it up and observe it closely, and you will find that the creature is covered in scales.
The legs, the head, and even the delicate neck of the tortoise have scales.
The scales are a protective layer, making the creature unattractive to predators.
Like the armadillos, the tortoise shell is also made of a carapace that forms the top layer.
In the case of a tortoise, there is also a bottom layer called the plastron.
The tortoise’s carapace is covered with individual pieces called scutes, which give the tortoise’s shell a scaly appearance.
3. Bearded dragons
If you have a pet bearded dragon, you will know that, like the mythological dragon, your pet’s body is also covered with scales.
The scales near the chin and the back of its head will have spikes, which the dragon will straighten when it feels threatened or wants to catch prey.
Bearded dragons are covered with reptilian scales, and you will find that for these creatures, too, the scales are a protective layer.
They developed the scales as a part of evolution, and the scales protect the creature from attack by larger predators.
Another unique feature of the bearded dragons is that they shed their scales as they grow.
Once the scales are shed, they need to grow these back and this process continues as the bearded dragons keep growing.
Chameleons have scaly skin, and this skin is a protective layer that makes the creature unattractive to larger predators.
These unusual reptiles have bumpy and distinctive scales on the edges of their bodies.
You will find that chameleons shed their scaly skins, and beneath these scaly skins lie the pigments that allow the creature to change colors.
The scales on the chameleons cannot grow along with the creatures, and hence, they need to shed their skins and grow new ones.
When they shed their skin, the scales are also shed along with the skin, and new scales grow in the place of the old ones.
Pangolins are one of the oldest creatures that have survived on Earth, and it is estimated that this creature has inhabited the planet for nearly eighty million years.
It has survived for so many years primarily due to its armor-like scales covering most of its body.
Pangolins’ scales cover them from their heads to their tails.
Sometimes an adult pangolin can have nine hundred to a thousand scales covering its body.
It is also the only mammal with its entire body covered in scales.
You will find that when a pangolin feels threatened, it will curl itself up into a tight ball.
In this situation, it is nearly invincible because you will have the armor-like scales covering all parts of the creature.
You will not be able to distinguish the snout, the legs, or even the edge of the tail, which is otherwise visible.
6. Komodo dragons
Komodo dragons are giant lizards.
Like many of the creatures of the reptilian family, the komodo dragons’ bodies are covered with reptilian scales.
These scales are a defense mechanism for the komodo dragons and they consist of small bones called osteoderms.
These tiny bones are connected closely, forming an armor resembling chainmail.
A unique feature of the scales on the body of a komodo dragon is that these are often of vibrant colors when the creature is young.
But as the creature matures, the scales lose their color, and you have the uniform greyish black scales covering the entire body of the adult komodo dragon.
So the color of the scales of all adult Komodo dragons is the same.
Snakes have unique scales on their stomach that helps them to crawl or climb walls.
Unlike other reptiles, the scales on the bottom part of the body of a snake are used for movement and not as a defense mechanism.
When it comes to the scales on the top of their body, these are not for locomotion but act as a defense mechanism.
However, in the case of snakes, the scales serve several other functions.
For example, snakes are often found in dry and arid regions. Here the scales help the creature to retain moisture.
Over a period, a snake will outgrow the outer layer and ‘shed its skin,’ and the inner layer of the scales will now become the outer layer.
Snakes also have unique transparent scales around their eyes called brille, which act as a protective coating for the eyes of the creature.
If you have seen an alligator, you will know that it is a giant reptile belonging to the crocodilian family and that it’s one of the animals that eat bones.
The distinctive feature of alligators and their large snouts is their scaly backs.
You can quickly identify the scaly backs of alligators and the geometrical pattern in which the scales are arranged.
The scales on the back of alligators are called scutes, and these act like armor.
These bony scales provide the necessary protection to these creatures against other predators.
You will find that predators avoid hunting alligators not just because of their massive size but also for the scales on the back of their bodies.
The dark skin of the alligator is the dark scale covering its entire body from its snout to its tail.
The scales also give the alligators an appearance that acts as deterrents to predators.
Flamingos are unique birds, and you will find that they can survive freezing temperatures due to the scales on their bodies.
Although it is pretty unusual for birds to have scales, these creatures have evolved to have scales on their bodies to survive extremities of temperature.
For example, you will often find flamingos sleeping on one leg even when the temperature around them is freezing.
These scales prevent the heat from their bodies from escaping and help the bird stay warm even during freezing temperatures.
Flamingos are one of the few birds to have scales on their legs and this too is an evolutionary mechanism.
Eels are unique fishes as they appear to be slippery and smooth. These fishes appear to be devoid of scales, unlike other fishes. But in reality, eels have scales.
The only thing about the scales on the body of eels is that these are embedded within their skin.
As the scales are embedded, it appears as though the eels have a smooth and slippery body.
The soft, thin scales of freshwater eels are buried in the epidermis of the fish.
You will find that the only species of eel that do not have scales are the moray eels.
The moray eels secrete thick mucus that protects the fish from scratches and brushes against other objects.
But in the case of common eels, you will find that the scales help protect the fish from external injuries caused by coming in contact with other objects.