Histology, ultrastructure, and pigmentation in the horny scales of growing crocodilians
Alibardi L. 2011. Histology, ultrastructure, and pigmentation in the horny scales of growing crocodilians. —Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 92: 187–200.
The present morphological study describes the color of hatchling, juvenile, and adult crocodilian skin and the origin of its pigmentation. In situ hybridization and immunostaining indicate that crocodilian scales grow as an expansion of the proliferating epidermis of the hinge region that form thin lateral rings. In more central areas of growing scales, new epidermal layers contribute to increase the thickness of the stratum corneum. The dark pigmentation and color pattern derive from the different distribution of epidermal and dermal chromatophores. The more intensely pigmented stripes, irregular patches and dot-like spots, especially numerous in dorsal scales, derive from the incorporation of the eumelanosomes of epidermal melanocytes in differentiating beta cells of the epidermis. Dermal melanophores, mainly localized in the loose upper part of the dermis, also contribute to the formation of the dark or gray background of crocodilian scales. The eumelanosomes of dermal melanophores determine the darkening of the skin pattern in association with the epidermal melanocytes. Iridophores are infrequent, while xantophores are present in the species analyzed with a sparse distribution in the superficial dermis among melanophores. The presence of xantophores and of the few iridophores in areas where epidermal melanocytes are absent appear to determine the brown or the light yellow-orange background observed among the darker regions of crocodilian scales.