American Oceans

Do Sharks Have Scales?

Sharks are fascinating creatures that have been the subject of many myths and misconceptions over the years.

bull shark in the blue ocean

One of the most commonly asked questions about sharks is whether or not they have scales. The answer is yes, but not in the same way that other fish do.

Shark scales, also known as dermal denticles or placoid scales, are unique to these creatures.

They are not like the scales found on bony fish, which are more like overlapping plates. Instead, shark scales are more like tiny teeth that cover the shark’s skin.

These scales are arranged in a V-shape, with the pointed end facing towards the tail.

This design helps to reduce drag and turbulence as the shark swims through the water, making them more efficient predators.


What are Shark Scales?

Shark scales, also known as dermal denticles, are unique structures that cover the skin of sharks.

Nurse Shark

These scales are made up of a type of scale called placoid scales, which are also known as “denticles.”

They are made up of a hard enamel-like outer layer, a pulp layer, and a basal plate that attaches the scale to the skin.

Types of Shark Scales

There are several types of shark scales, each with its own unique properties. The most common type of shark scale is the placoid scale, which is found on most species of sharks.

Placoid scales have a flat, plate-like shape with a pointed or rounded tip. They are arranged in rows along the shark’s body, with the tips pointing towards the tail.

Another type of shark scale is the cosmoid scale, which is found on ancient species of sharks.

Cosmoid scales are much larger than placoid scales and have a bony core covered by a layer of enamel.

Shark scales also vary in texture. Some sharks have smooth, flat scales, while others have rough, sandpaper-like scales.

The texture of a shark’s scales can affect its ability to swim, as rough scales can create more drag in the water.


Why Don’t Sharks Have Traditional Scales?

Sharks are fascinating creatures that have been around for millions of years. One of the most distinctive features of sharks is their skin, which is covered in tiny, tooth-like structures called dermal denticles.

two lemon sharks fighting

While these denticles serve a similar function to traditional scales, they are not the same thing.

Evolutionary Design

Sharks are part of a group of fish called cartilaginous fish, which also includes rays and skates.

Unlike bony fish, which have scales made of bone, cartilaginous fish have skin that is covered in dermal denticles.

This unique skin structure is thought to have evolved over millions of years to give sharks a competitive advantage in their environment.

One theory is that dermal denticles evolved to reduce drag as sharks swim through the water.

The ridges on the denticles create tiny vortices that help to reduce drag and increase swimming efficiency.

This is especially important for larger species of sharks, which need to conserve energy as they move through the water.

Functionality

In addition to reducing drag, dermal denticles also provide protection and stealth for sharks.

The shape and arrangement of the denticles can vary depending on the species of shark, but they all serve a similar function.

Thicker, less-ridged denticles can protect sharks from being easily scratched by hard surfaces or other animals and even make it harder for parasites to stick onto their skin.

The shape and arrangement of the denticles can also help sharks to move stealthily through the water.

Some species of sharks, such as the great white shark, have denticles that are arranged in a way that helps to reduce noise as they move through the water.

This is important for hunting, as it allows the shark to sneak up on its prey without being detected.


How Do Shark Scales Compare to Fish Scales?

Shark scales are unique from other fish scales in texture, design, and functionality. In this section, we will discuss the differences between shark scales and fish scales.

Diver interacting with a tiger shark

Texture and Design

Shark scales, also known as dermal denticles, are made of the same material as teeth. They are small, pointed structures that overlap each other like tiles on a roof.

The scales are embedded in the shark’s skin and give it a rough texture that feels like sandpaper.

This texture is useful for reducing drag when the shark swims through the water.

In contrast, bony fish scales are flat and thin, and they overlap each other like shingles on a roof.

The scales of bony fish are not embedded in the skin but grow out of it. The smooth texture of bony fish scales is not as useful for reducing drag as the rough texture of shark scales.

Functionality

Shark scales have a unique design that allows them to manipulate flow and reduce drag when the shark swims.

The scales are angled in the direction of the water flow, which helps to reduce turbulence and increase swimming speed.

The scales also have a flexible base that allows them to bristle in excess of 30-50 degrees when the shark’s body bends, changing the nature of fluid flow.

Bony fish scales, on the other hand, do not have the same flexibility as shark scales. Instead, bony fish rely on their swim bladders to control their buoyancy in the water.

Invertebrates, such as squid and octopus, do not have scales or swim bladders but use jet propulsion to move through the water.

Marine mammals, such as dolphins and whales, have smooth skin that is adapted to reduce drag and increase swimming speed.


What are the Benefits of Shark Scales?

Sharks are known for their unique skin, which is covered in scales that are made of the same material as their teeth.

top smallest sharks hold by human hand

These scales, also known as dermal denticles, provide several benefits to sharks, including protection and swimming efficiency.

Protection and Armor

Shark scales act as a form of armor for their bodies, protecting them from other animals and objects in the water.

The scales are connected to the shark’s skin, which helps it to retain heat and support muscles.

Females tend to have thicker skin, up to twice as thick as males for protection during mating. This thick skin offers protection since the male will bite her to hold on during mating.

Sharks are also known for their sharp teeth, but their scales provide an additional layer of defense against potential predators.

Sawfish, which are related to sharks, have scales that are so tough they were once used as sandpaper.

Swimming Efficiency

Shark scales also play a crucial role in swimming efficiency. The scales are designed to reduce drag when sharks swim near the surface of the ocean.

This allows them to move through the water with less resistance, which helps them to swim faster and conserve energy.

The shape and arrangement of the scales on a shark’s body also help to reduce turbulence and improve speed.

Scientists have studied the structure of shark scales to develop more efficient designs for underwater vehicles, planes, and wind turbines.


What are Some Examples of Shark Scales?

Shark scales, also known as dermal denticles, are unique structures that cover the entire body of a shark.

lemon sharks find and hunt prey to eat

These scales come in various shapes and sizes depending on the species of shark.

Great White Shark

Great White Sharks have small, overlapping scales that are shaped like tiny teeth. These scales are known as placoid scales and are made of dentin, the same material that makes up human teeth.

Great White Shark deep blue ocean predator

The scales on the upper part of the shark’s body are dark gray or brown, while those on the belly are white.

This coloration helps the shark blend in with its surroundings and avoid detection by prey.

Whale Shark

Whale Sharks have much larger scales than other shark species, which are more widely spaced. These scales are also made of dentin and are covered in a layer of enamel.

Whale shark

The scales on the back of the Whale Shark are dark brown or black, while those on the belly are white with black spots.

These colorations help the shark camouflage itself in the water.

Shortfin Mako

Shortfin Makos have small, pointed scales that are shaped like triangles. These scales are very tough and are used by the shark to protect itself from predators.

Short fin mako shark swimming

The scales on the upper part of the shark’s body are dark blue or black, while those on the belly are white.

This coloration helps the shark blend in with its surroundings and avoid detection by prey.

Angel Shark

Angel Sharks have flat, diamond-shaped scales that are very flexible. These scales are used by the shark to help it move more efficiently through the water.

The scales on the upper part of the shark’s body are dark brown or gray, while those on the belly are white.

This coloration helps the shark blend in with its surroundings and avoid detection by prey.

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