scale, in zoology, an outgrowth, either bony or horny, of the skin of an animal. The major component of the scales of fishes is bone, and they are formed directly in the skin membrane as the fish grows. The number of rows of scales, as well as the kind, figures in the identification of a species. The growth of the scales is marked by rings, which aid in determining the age of the fish. The placoid scales of sharks, which have a dentine base with a pulp cavity, are thought to be similar to the forms from which the teeth of the higher vertebrates evolved. Ganoid scales, found in primitive fishes such as the gar pike and the sturgeon, are heavy and platelike. Other fishes have either rough scales (ctenoid) with comblike edges or smooth scales (cycloid). The horny scales, or scutes, of most reptiles develop embryologically as outpushings of the epidermis. In some lizards the scales are modified to form tubercles or granules. Other lizards and snakes have overlapping scales, highly developed in the snakes as aids to locomotion. The crocodile has both horny and bony scales. Among turtles and their relatives scales are usually found on the head, neck, limbs, and tail; in most of the group horny scales also form a pattern of flat plates overlying the bony dermal skeleton of the back and belly. Birds have horny scales on the feet and sometimes on the legs. Some mammals, e.g., the mouse and the rat, have scales on the tail; the pangolin and the armadillo have a body covering of large horny scales.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.