Animal Wrappers

By Matt Seek | November 21, 2012
From Xplor: December 2012/January 2013

Whether it’s skin, scales, feathers, or fur, what covers a critter does many important things. For one, it protects an animal’s clean, squishy insides (such as its heart and lungs) from sharp, dirty things outside. But that’s not all an animal’s wrapper can do. Read on to wrap your head around a few other animal wrapper roles.


Male painted buntings dress to impress. Like many boy birds, these fellas use their flashy feathers to charm the chicks. The bright colors also advertise to other buntings that a patch of habitat is occupied.


Every inch of a catfish’s skin, from its whiskery barbels to the tip of its tail, is blanketed with taste buds. But this sense-sational skin isn’t made to savor flavors. Its purpose is to help catfish nab snacks in dark, murky water.


How does a river otter stay hotter than chilly water? It’s very hairy. Each fingernail-sized patch of fur is packed with about 60,000 hairs! This dense coat keeps the otter toasty when it swims in icy streams or belly-slides down snowy banks.


Bold patterns, such as the yellow and black bands on a bee or the white stripes on a skunk, are nature’s way of saying, “Back off, or face the consequences.” This clearwing moth can’t sting, but that doesn’t keep it from doing its best bumblebee imitation.


Cave salamanders don’t just wear their skin, they breathe through it, too. These little amphibians don’t have lungs like a person or gills like a fish. Instead, oxygen passes right through their moist, slimy skin into tiny blood vessels just underneath.


Most mammals have lots of fur, but not armadillos. These cat-sized critters are covered from snout to tail with tough bony plates. Although armadillos look like walking motorcycle helmets, the armor protects them from pokey things such as thorns or teeth.


Timber rattlesnakes look fierce, but they’re actually quite shy. To hide from predators and prey, the sneaky snakes coil quietly beside fallen logs and rely on their camouflaged scales to blend in with dead leaves.


With lime-green skin and elegant pink stripes, io moth caterpillars look lovely. But don’t be fooled by their bling, because these little wigglers can sting. Each of their frilly spines packs a poisonous punch that keeps predators from munching the slowmoving insects.

Moisture Conservation

The glades where collared lizards lurk are sunny, hot, and dry. So how does a lizard keep from becoming a crispy critter? They’re wrapped in waterproof scales. The scales overlap like shingles on a roof. But unlike shingles, a lizard’s outer layer keeps moisture in, not out.


And More...

This Issue's Staff

David Besenger
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Regina Knauer
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
Tim Smith
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White