Were they developed anew or a heritage from fish?


2 Answers 2


Pangolin scales are certainly not retained from fish. Pangolins are within the clade Pholidota (Tree of Life page for Eutheria) and their nearest relatives are anteaters, sloths, and armadillos.

According to the University of California Museum of Paleontology, similarities between pangolin and armadillos are the results of convergent evolution. So the pangolin scales are a new feature that arose somewhere on the lineage leading to pangolins.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ were they developed from hair or from skin folds? $\endgroup$
    – Anixx
    Feb 23, 2012 at 2:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ They are keratinous scales, like hair and claws/nails. I'd suspect similar development to nails, but I'm not sure. $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Feb 23, 2012 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ Their closest relatives are carnivores, not anteaters, sloths, and armadillos. See DOI: 10.1186/1471-2148-6-93. $\endgroup$
    – mgkrebbs
    Dec 22, 2015 at 17:23

The pangolin scale is a horny derivative of the epidermis. It is complex in structure and is divisible into three distinct regions. The dorsal plate forms approximately one-sixth of the scale thickness. It is composed of flattened solid keratinized cells without basophilic nuclear remnants. This region tends to fray easily. The dorsal plate contains bound phospholipids and sulphydryl groups but is weak in disulphide bonds. (On the nature of the horny scales of the pangolin)


It is suggested on the basis of histological structure and dishribution of chemical constituents that pangolin scales are probably homologous with primate nails.

Sorry, I forgot the second part of your question - were they developed from fish. The article suggests that they did NOT evolve from reptile scales. Since fish are even farther removed from reptiles on the evolutionary scale, I think that pretty much answers your question; pangolin scales do not share a common origin with fish scales.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think this answers the question $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Dec 22, 2015 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ Oops - I forgot the second part of his question. I edited my answer accordingly. $\endgroup$ Dec 22, 2015 at 16:33

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