Scales are rigid plates, most often seen with fish and reptiles, that provide protection in the same way skin protects the human body. They’re one of the oldest superficial layers of an animal’s body and they’ve evolved many times to be what they are today.
In this article, we’ll be listing down all the animals with scales.
- Musky Rat-kangaroo
Scientific name (suborder): Serpentes
Snakes are animals with scales and dry skin, contrary to the popular belief, as many people think that snakes are slimy. However, snakes need to stay dry in order to move well on land. For this purpose, they develop specialized scales.
Snake scales allow them to grip surfaces well, which is why so many snakes are good climbers, even though they don’t have any limbs and can’t grab anything.
The eyelids of a snake are also scales, but they’re transparent and very smooth. Snakes regularly shed their skin, getting rid of old parasites and mites.
Scientific name (order): Crocodilia
Crocodiles are cold blooded animals with scales and their scales are much tougher and more resistant than snake scales. You could almost say that they’re a suit of armor of the crocodile, as they’re hardened by bony plates.
There are many misconceptions about crocodile scales – for example, people online claim that crocodile scales can stop a bullet. This is, for the most part, untrue.
However, crocodile scales can stop a small caliber round from penetrating the body when shot from a distance.
This, however, happens very rarely – most crocodiles that are shot (for whatever reason) die from those bullet wounds.
When shot, bullets go through thin-scale areas (neck and belly) much easier than through thick-scale areas (back and tail).
Scientific name (order): Squamata
These small animals with scales have overlapping scales made of keratin, which ensure that they’re protected from the elements (they lose and gain heat slower than mammals), while they also lose water through evaporation to a smaller degree.
Some lizards made scale adaptations and turned them into spines that they use for intimidation and protection.
They also shed their skin, just like snakes, but they don’t do it in a single piece. Instead, they shed it chaotically, in several pieces.
Scientific name (class): Aves
People very often forget that birds have scales, but if you take a look at their feet, you’ll notice that they have reptile-like scales. In some bird species, these scales aren’t visible because they’re covered with feathers.
The primary purpose of these scales is to protect the legs of the birds from getting hurt, while it also provides them with some water-keeping effects. Similar to lizards, birds don’t lose heat quickly.
Interestingly, birds are the only animals with scales and feathers!
Scientific name (class): Actinopterygii
These animals with scales and gills are probably the most well-known scaled animals.
Not all fish have the same scales, as they’ve developed different types. For example, sharks have tiny placoid scales, which help them save energy when swimming.
Cycloid scales, which we see in salmon, are different, as they’re arranged in a mosaic. There are at least six different types of scales in fish, but there are also fish with no scales, such as jawless fish and catfish.
Scientific name (suborder): Myliobatoidei
Stingrays are an interesting example of scale modifications, as their teeth are actually modified placoid scales. Just like scales, their teeth shed and are often replaced by new teeth.
We can find placoid scales all over the body of a stingray, and they’re usually rough to the touch, so they feel a bit like sandpaper. They’re usually aimed backward, reducing friction as the animal swims.
Some of these sea animals with scales and fins have tiny spines pointing out through the scales, which comes in handy when they have to defend themselves from predators.
Scientific name: Tesudines
Turtles are a unique example of a species with scales developing not only on the soft part of the body but also on the hardest part of the body – their shell.
The shell of a turtle is covered in scales made of keratin, with about 54 scales on its shell in total.
The scales of a turtle are connected like a mosaic, just like with other animals whose bodies are covered with scales, and that’s why they’re sometimes at a disadvantage.
For example, the eardrum of a turtle is also covered by a scale, which makes their hearing range different from other reptiles.
Scientific name (order): Pholidota
Pangolins are the most recognizable animals with scales because of their characteristic look. Their entire body is covered in large, hardened scales that provide them with strong armor, but also make them look like tall, moving pine cones.
Unfortunately, these African and Asian animals with scales were often hunted down because of their scales. It was believed that they had healing properties and were often used in traditional medicine.
Scientific name (order): Cingulata
Armadillos have one of the toughest armors in the animal kingdom, and they’re one of the very few mammals with scales. Their armor consists of dermal bone plates covered in small scales.
The armor is separated into sections, which provides the animal with some agility. When cornered, an armadillo will curl into a ball, as that armor is impenetrable for most creatures in the wild.
10. Musky Rat-kangaroo
Scientific name: Hypsiprymnodon moschatus
Mammalian scales are very rare, and this tiny marsupial is one of the few mammals to pride itself with scales. These rare animals have scales on their feet and tails.
However, they’ve been insufficiently studied, so we don’t really know why they evolved scales and how they help them in their everyday life.
Similar to their tail, their ears also appear leathery, but it’s been confirmed that the ears don’t have scales.
The anatomy of this Australian animal with scales seems to be a bit all over the place, and it will take more research to fully understand why they have scales on their feet and tails.
Scientific name (family): Anomaluridae
Also known as ‘scaly-tailed squirrels’, these animals are recognizable by the raised scales on the bottom of their tails.
We know that squirrels are arguably the best climbers in the animal kingdom, and scaly-tailed squirrels use their scales to help them climb.
These animals with scales and fur are endemic to Africa, where they’re safe from habitat loss.
Scientific name (order): Lepidoptera
Even though you wouldn’t normally think of insects when thinking of scales, some flying insects have developed scales.
Scales are crucial for developing patterns that many butterflies and moths use for camouflage. Dark scales on the wings are also useful for insulation.
Some insects with scales, such as colorful moths, use their coloring to repel predators. Animals in the wild often avoid eating colorful animals as they believe that they’re toxic. Winged insects wouldn’t be able to do this if it weren’t for scales.
A great example of scale use is the poplar hawk-moth, which can completely blend in with tree birch.
Scientific name (suborder): Rhopalocera
The scales of a butterfly’s wing are pigmented with melanins, uric acid derivatives, and flavones – which allows them to combine various colors. We formally divide them into yellow/white, black, and red/brown/orange scales.
Butterflies use their scales to blend in with the environment, but also to deter predators by appearing toxic. Some butterflies have incredible patterns on their wings, making it look like they have eyes on their wings.
These flying animals with scales are great examples of ingenious camouflaging and intimidation, which we can also see with lizards and snakes.
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