When we think of scales, we naturally think of fish and lizards, which we associate with being relatively soft. However this isn’t the case when we think of crocodiles. Crocodile skin is like armoured plated skin. It’s tough but durable. So you may be thinking, do crocodiles have scales?
Crocodiles do indeed have scales, although they are very different from any other reptile scale. Crocodile scales are actually called ‘Scutes’. They are very big in size, due to the nature of a crocodiles size in general, and have the density of bone. Amazingly the scutes are not attached to any part of a crocodiles skeleton, therefore this armoured skin is incredibly flexible and durable. This means a crocodile is able to move fast through the water effortlessly.
Another interesting fact about crocodile scales is that they are all different shapes, sizes and densities. The most noticeable variation of scales is on a crocodiles back. They are the biggest scales on a crocodile, and for good reason too. A crocodiles back is the one place which is open to a number of elements. Although crocodiles spend a lot of time in water, they most commonly get all the water they need from their foods. The scales on a crocodiles back are thick to be able to withstand the heat of the sun. The larger scales have formed to reduce water loss through the sun exposed skin.
Just like human skin, if a crocodiles stays in the sun too long, the skin will dehydrate and become uncomfortably dry.
Crocodiles Scale Sensitivity
It’s not very well known that crocodiles are actually very sensitive reptiles. Although they have arguably the toughest armoured skin in the animal kingdom, a crocodiles scale are actually very sensitive.
Crocodiles are covered from head to toe in scales. Thousands of scales cover their bodies and each scale has a spot which is full of nerve endings. Before a crocodile has even hatched these tiny spot nerve endings are starting to form. It’s believed they start forming from the head and make their way down the crocodile body to the tip of the tail. Each nerve ending spot is receptive to touch, temperature and pH levels.
A common misconception people have of crocodiles is that they hunt during the day. When ever we see wildlife documentaries, we see crocodile hunting scene during the day. But this isn’t a natural characteristic for the crocodile species. They actually prefer to hunt during darkness, (given they’re not the smallest of animals).
The tiny nerve spots allow crocodiles to detect prey in total darkness. Similar to sharks, crocodiles can feel the smallest of ripples caused by swimming fish or a land animals drinking from the banks. This means a crocodile can sneak up on its next potential meal without even seeing it with its own eyes. These scale spots are found in all species of crocodile, however alligators and caimans only have these nerve spots around their faces.
So do crocodiles feel a lot of pain?
Many people believe that crocodiles can’t feel pain. Whilst this isn’t factually true, there is some truth behind it, so let me explain.
As I have stated before, crocodiles have tiny spots on their scales with highly sensitive nerve ends. When I mean tiny, I mean as small as a grain of sand, on each scale. The rest of the scale is believe to be extremely low in sensitivity, if any at all. So this means, unless a crocodile is touched on one of these specific nerve spots, then they probably can’t feel it at all.
This is why when you see crocodile fights, they are extremely ferocious, but they rarely seem to show any sign of pain. Crocodiles have been known and seen to carry on fighting even when limbs have been ripped off. Yes this is likely to hurt, probably a lot, but it’s believed it wouldn’t hurt to the level in which a human would, and this is due to the lack of nerve receptors crocodiles have.
This is probably due to evolution, and the fact that crocodiles are top of the food chain. Over time a crocodiles nervous system has probably evolved acutely to receive sensory signal of nearby prey, over pain threshold as they are rarely attacked. They don’t really need sensory systems for pain, as they’re not commonly attacked or preyed on.
Do crocodiles have scales which are different from other reptiles?
Crocodiles have very different scale formations to other reptiles such as snakes and lizards. Now, this may come across somewhat confusing but I’ll try to explain it as simply as possible.
All reptiles have layers of skin, which for simplicity we will call the inner and outer layer. Snake and lizard scales and skin forms two continuous layers of skin, one below the other. This differs for crocodiles as their’s are layers side by side. Snake and Lizard scales overlap, whilst crocodile and many turtles do not.
In crocodiles the outer scale surface consists of B-keratin and the hinge region in-between the scales containing A-keratin. In snakes and lizards both keratins form continuous layers with the A-keratin below the B-keratin.
Lack of Scale Glands
You’re probably thinking that surely they have different reasons for this. But no, The scales have the some function for all reptiles. The main functions of scales on reptiles is to produce a continuous barrier to evaporation. If reptiles didn’t have these hard scales all over their bodies, then they would simply dehydrate very quickly and most likely die as a result.
Crocodiles do not have any skin glands, therefore they cannot sweat. This is good because otherwise they would lose too much moisture from their bodies. Reptiles rarely drink too, and this is no different for crocodiles. A meal for a crocodile is also its water supply, so keeping this within its body as long as possible is crucial to its survival.
Bulletproof Scales Myth
There is a myth which stems back hundred of years, that crocodile skin is bullet proof. Still to this day many people have a misconception about this myth. Crocodile skin is one of the toughest leather materials we know of. Because of this, crocodiles have been hunted and killed for their skins due to its toughness.
Crocodile scales vary in toughness over different parts of their bodies. For example, a crocodiles belly is actually rather soft. If you were to run your hand over a crocodiles stomach then it would feel kind of loose, similar to snake skin. The scales are still extremely tough and durable, which makes for easy movability, but has a softness to it.
Now, if you compare this to a scales on a crocodiles back, you will get a completely different texture. The scales on a crocodiles back are solid, like bone. This is because the sales on a crocodiles back contain Osteoderms. Osteoderms are bony deposits which form on crocodile scutes, which strengthen the scales to an almost impenetrable skin. Although becoming one of the toughest skin variation in the animal kingdom, it is by no means bulletproof.
Unfortunately when crocodiles are hunted, they are commonly killed by poachers wielding guns. Sometimes if a shot is fired from an angle, then the bullet may ricochet off the crocodiles think skin, giving the illusion that it is in fact bulletproof.
Do crocodile have thick scales?
This can’t really be answered accurately as every individual is different. Once a crocodile reaches the age of 10 – 15 years of age, their growth rate begins to slow, however it never completely stops. Crocodiles will continue to grow, albeit slowly, right up until the day they die, which could range between 60 – 70 years old. The thickness of crocodile skin relies on their size in general. Some species can grow huge, such as the individual Lolong, who holds the world record at 20ft 3 inches. He weighed 1,075kg, with scales which measured up to 5 inches wide.
Well there you have it, everything you need to know on ‘Do crocodiles have scales’. To recap, yes crocodiles do have scales although they’re slightly different to other reptile scales. Remember that crocodile scales are actually called ‘Scutes’ which means the scales are formed as a bony structure. The structure of scales change from the underside of a crocodile, where they are relatively soft, to a crocodiles back, where they hard to the tough.
Finally you shouldn’t forget that crocodile scales have highly sensitive ‘nerve spots’ which means they can feel the slightest of change in temperatures, pH levels and differing water movements. All these aspects give them an upper hand when hunting in complete darkness, which is their preferred time to find food.