Why Do Reptiles Have Scales | Reptile Encounters

Why Do Reptiles Have Scales?

By Reptile Encounters/06 December 2013

snake scales

Reptiles are one of the six basic animal families, and belong to the biological class called Reptilia, which includes animals such as snakes, lizards, crocodiles, turtles, and many groups that have sadly gone extinct throughout the years. Believe it or not, while reptiles have characteristics that make them unique from species in the other animal family, many reptiles have other characteristics that make them similar to amphibians, birds, and even humans!

Comparing Reptiles to Other Animal Families

For example, in contrast to amphibians which lay soft shelled eggs like fish, the eggs of reptiles have a hard shell like the ones lain by birds. And while reptiles have skin like animals in other families, including humans and other mammals, unlike these creatures that are left exposed to elements such as UV rays, reptiles have built-in protection in the form of scales. Beneath their scales reptiles have a watertight skin that allows them to exist on dry land, unlike their amphibian counterparts.

When compared to human skin, the skin of a reptile is thin and fragile, unlike the skin of mammals which offers a thick, leathery dermal layer that offers protection. Because of this, snakes rely on their scales for protection for more than just exposure to UV rays from the sun. A reptile’s scales also protect the animals from abrasions as they scurry across the ground, climb trees, or briefly dive beneath the surface of the water. The scales also help protect reptiles from the loss of body moisture which helps them stay healthy.

Reptiles Have Always Had Scales

Reptiles have had scales for millions of years as proved by fossils found all over the world. The scales of a reptile are similar to a human fingernail, and made from a hard substance known as keratin. Although reptilian scales come in a variety of shapes and sizes as well as a wide range of colors and textures, all scales go through a shedding process which allows the reptile to completely replace all the scales on its body. Some reptiles, like snakes, shed their entire skin at once while others shed their old scales in flaky patches.

Younger reptiles shed their scales more frequently because they are still growing. Some shed as often as every four to six weeks or more. Because shedding indicates growing, regular periods of shedding are considered healthy while a reptile that sheds scales at infrequent times may be facing some type of health concern or issue.

New Healthy Scales for Your Pet Reptile

If you have a reptile for a pet, you can ensure a healthy shed by making sure that there is the proper amount of light, the right temperature and humidity, and proper cage accessories. Make sure your reptile’s diet is rich in necessary nutrients and try to keep the stress level at the bare minimum by handling your pet less during this time than you normally would. For most reptiles that shed in patches at a time, the shedding process takes about three weeks’ total. As always if there is any indication that something is wrong, contact your vet for advice.

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