Monday, January 31, 2011

Animals in armor: having a hard body is a good thing if you're an animal under attack.(includes information on armor worn by knights)(Cover Story).

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You've heard of knights in shining armor. Even today, some people wear bullet- proof vests or ride around in armored vehicles. It's all to protect the body from harm.

But guess what--nature did it first! Many animals come with ready-made suits of armor. In fact, they make their own best bodyguards! Here are just a few.

Everybody knows about the armadillo--probably the world's most famous armored animal. Its name even means "little armored one" in Spanish. Its armor is made of super-tough skin and bony bands.

There are many kinds of armadillos. Some have bands all the way down their backs. Some have just a few bands. The nine-banded armadillo below can curl up, but not all the way into a ball. Only three-banded armadillos from South America can do that.

Watch a millipede if you want to see flexible bands in action. a pill mil- lipede shuffles along, minding its own business. But what if something dangerous comes sniffing around? Fwwwipp!--the millipede pulls itself into a tight little pill-like ball. It can do that by bending at each place where two bands are joined. All the soft parts--head, back end, and underneath--are now protected.

You won't find this kind of millipede unless you're visiting a tropical rain- forest in Borneo. But you might find other kinds right in your own neighbor- hood. Watch to see if they also curl up their hard, banded bodies when threatened. Or look for a millipede lookalike called a pillbug (also known as a sowbug or wood louse).

Some animals carry their own shields with them wherever they go. Take this tropical snail, for example. Like any garden snail, this slimy guy can draw completely into its hard shell. Snails aren't the only soft-bodied creatures that live a "shell-tered" life. The ocean is chock full of armored creatures such as scallops, oysters, clams, and barnacles.

And don't forget lobsters and crabs. They don't have shells that they can open and close or go in and out of. Their whole bodies are wrapped in a shell. That king crab looks as if its body armor could take a lot of hard knocks.

Like all turtles, the desert tortoise lives inside a kind of bony shell sand- wich. The top and bottom halves of its shell can't close up completely, as they can in a box turtle. But the tortoise can pull in its head and seal off the opening with its strong, scaly legs. The tortoise looks as if it's warning a predator: You can knock, but you can't come in!

Check out the tortoise copycat. Just like the tortoise, it has a shell. But it's really a kind of insect called a tortoise beetle. All insects wear their skeletons on the outside. But this skeleton forms a super-duper shield that covers even the insect's head and legs.

Scales form the most flexible armor of all. They aren't exactly like a knight's metal "cloth" (called chain mail), but they work just as well.

All reptiles--from snakes to crocodiles--have scales. The spiny lizard has scales that end in sharp points. This lizard might make a prickly mouthful. But it can usually make a quick getaway first. While thick bands and big shells can add weight to an armored animal, scaly armor doesn't slow this lizard down!

Most fish, including the parrotfish, have bodies covered by hard scales. In some fish, the scales are thick and heavy. In others, they're small and thin. And some fish, such as sharks, have scales that are tiny but very rough.

There's even a mammal with scales--the pangolin (PANG-guh-lin), which is some- times called a scaly anteater. Believe it or not, the scales on that pangolin mom and her baby are made from a weird, extra-hard form of hair.

The pangolin isn't a fast mover. But it is flexible. If it can't escape danger fast enough, it just rolls up into a ball. Mom can even curl up with her baby tucked inside! The scales have sharp edges, so it's not a good idea to mess with a pangolin that doesn't want to be messed with.

Bands that bend. Shells that shield. Scads of scales. These forms of body armor all help protect the animals that wear them. They may not keep the roughest, toughest, or sneakiest pests and predators away. But they help make the armored ones' lives a whole lot safer.

Solid sheets of metal armor protect this knight in a big way. But they're stiff and clunky and make it hard for him to move around. Narrow bands joined together let the body bend.

A big, heavy shield works great to fend off weapons. A warrior can duck behind it or move it around to cover unprotected parts of the body.

A knight's chain mail armor is made of interlocking pieces of metal. It's lighter in weight and much more bendable than solid metal sheets or even bands.

Source Citation
Lambeth, Ellen. "Animals in armor: having a hard body is a good thing if you're an animal under attack." Ranger Rick May 1997: 40+. Popular Magazines. Web. 31 Jan. 2011.
Document URL

Gale Document Number:A19332509

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