Do Birds Have Scales? (Are They Dinosaurs??)

All vertebrates (animals that have a backbone) are covered in either scales, fur, or feathers. Reptiles are a perfect example of a vertebrate that has scales and all mammals have fur or hair. And you probably know that birds are covered in feathers. But did you know that birds also have scales? It’s true! 

Do birds have scales? Birds do indeed have scales! While the body of a bird is covered in feathers, its feet are covered in scales. Scales provide their feet with protection and also prevents them from losing water from their bodies. 

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Are the scales on a bird the same as the scales on a reptile? 

The scales on birds are structurally the same as the scales on reptiles like snakes and lizards. Most birds have three different types of scales on their feet. These scales are reticulate scales, scutate scales, and scutella scales.  

The reticulate scales are the scales that are found on the pads of their feet and it contains α-keratin, which is the type of keratin that is found in vertebrates. Keratin is the material that makes up parts of our bodies such as our hair and nails, and parts of animals such as scales, horns, claws, hooves, and even feathers.  

The scutate scales are large and more rectangular in shape. These scales are found on the front part of the metatarsal bones (the bones of the midfoot) and the back parts of the toes.  

The scutella scales are located to the sides of the scutate scales and these scales are smaller in size. Like scutate scales, these scales are more rectangular in shape than the reticulate scales.  

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Both the scutate scales and the scutella scales are made of β-keratin with an α-keratin center.  β-keratin is the keratin that is found in the scales in reptiles and birds.  

Do all birds have scales? 

All birds do have scales on their feet! So from chickens, to penguins, to flamingos, they all have scales on their feet. 

Did feathers evolve from scales? 

Now that we know that birds have both scales and feathers, it is interesting to learn that their feathers have actually evolved from scales! Let me explain. US scientists have discovered that it is possible to “change” the genes in an embryo alligator to replicate how feathers might have evolved from scales millions of years ago. And get this – the feathers on birds were evolved from not just any scales, but from dinosaur scales. This is because researchers have found that birds are descendants of dinosaurs! 

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Are birds related to dinosaurs? 

According to paleontologist Julia Clarke, birds are more than just related to dinosaurs – they are modern dinosaurs! “Birds are living dinosaurs, just as we are mammals,” she says. Additionally, Professor Clarke says that every single species of bird is descended from one type of dinosaur- the theropod dinosaur. 

Theropods were a group of meat-eating dinosaurs- and one of the most famous dinosaurs in the world (the t-rex) was actually a member of this group. While it is debated by scientists why dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago, scientists do seem to agree that birds were the only dinosaurs to survive. And over time, these dinosaur birds evolved into the birds that we are familiar with today. 

Scientists believe that birds were able to survive whatever whipped out the dinosaurs because of their small size, their ability to fly, and the fact that they can eat a bunch of different types of food.  

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Do any other animals have feathers besides birds? 

Since we’ve learned that reptiles are not the only vertebrates that have scales, you may be wondering if any other animals have feathers. But out of all of the millions and millions of animals on this planet (scientists estimate that there are about 8.7 million different species on Earth), birds are the only animals to have feathers! Additionally, all birds (scientists believe there are about 10,000 species of birds) have feathers.

These feathers help birds to fly, attract a mate, and help them with temperature control. Feathers are also water-resistant, which helps them to remain dry even when they are swimming or it is raining.  

Do Birds Have Scales?
Do Birds Have Scales?