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Dragons are often thought to have impenetrable scales. If dragons were to shed them it would obviously make them far more vulnerable for a period of time. This on the other hand would make them easier to be hunted.

So the question is pretty straightforward. Would a dragon, based on modern science, shed their scales? Assuming the dragon is just overgrown lizard with fire breath, wings and scales made of metal-rich mineral composites. If so how long would the process take? Dragons are very common theme but their biology isn't explained often in detail.

Metal-rich mineral scales are most easily explainable. Minerals are heat resistant to withstand their own flames while metal would have it's own advantages. Dragons would eat minerals to grind their food while the excessive metal would come from equipment worn by humans they eat. So in short dragons are what they eat. If they eat valuables they might have golden scales while starved dragon wouldn't probably even have scales to begin with.

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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Please do not answer questions in the comments; post instead, then you can get the rep that goes with it. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jan 23 '18 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Sir Lightwave! Interesting question. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jan 24 '18 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ Patrick Rothfuss already solved this for his dragons with extremely iron rich scales, they shed the scales individually and eat them, they double as gizzard stones in this way and gets the iron back into their system. Of course his dragons eat entire trees so they need processing power. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 23 '18 at 19:14
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Yes

And it doesn't compromise their ultra-tough scales at all.

Whether you think in terms of a snake (the entire skin is shed at one go) or a lizard like an iguana (the skin flakes off in patches over time), you still have the same basic process... the scale doesn't actually leave the body, leaving the snake or lizard defenseless, the scale underneath grows beyond the limits of a top-layer of skin, and the skin must be shed to make room for the growth. The scale is still there, and in the case of your dragon, still very much armored.

Yup, they'd shed their skins... and an ugly biohazard that would be!

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  • $\begingroup$ Sourcing materials for dragon-scale armour just got a lot easier though! $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Aug 23 '18 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ If you want to be technical about it, humans also shed... it's just a slow process that cycles over 7 years. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Aug 23 '18 at 20:44
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Reptiles are not vulnerable in the way in which you seem to be thinking when they shed their skin, so I do not see why dragons would be.

Basically, the new scales grow under the old ones, so it's not as though, when they shed that reptiles are softer during that time.

As to how long it would take, that would depend on the process. Snakes can take two weeks...

Lizards: Iguana, Geckos, Chameleon…

Lizards shed their skin by parts, being one of them the change of colour: the skin get paler on the bits where it starts to fall off. Skin renovation usually starts on the head or along the spine and regularly ends on the tail. Although each individual has its own shedding rhythm, it usually takes a week or two for lizards to have their skin wholly shed. SOURCE

Snakes

Snakes have a rather particular shedding process. Their skin comes off all in one piece and turned inside out, shaping into a sort of pale skin tube. Before the process begins, most snakes start presenting hazy, whitish or bluish eyes. Colubrids tend to get a lighter colour, while others, such as the boidaes, turn into a lot darker. The skin shedding process will only set off once the eyes return to their regular colours, which is usually the next day. SOURCE

Alligators and Crocodile

Alligators and Crocodile skin is scaly and often will come off in individual scales instead. So, while alligators shed their skin like other animals do, their “molting” is much different than other reptiles. Just like most animals including Mammals, a healthy alligator will continue to shed its scales regularly, rubbing up against trees and rocks to rub off the dead skin.

As Alligator shed their scales, newer, larger, and denser scales are formed as the Alligator grows in age and size. This makes their skin incredibly dense and strong, resistant to the abuse that would tear or scar the skin of most mammals, including the false theory that their skin is “bulletproof”. While not bulletproof, alligator leather is extremely durable and this makes it a popular leather to use in products and upholstery where a very dense yet attractive leather is needed. SOURCE

Vulnerabilities will depend on how you work it--they might not be able to move as well, like lizards sometimes, or their eyes might be compromised for a short time. Dragons are likely more in line with gators than they are lizards, though you could work their first large molting or shedding like a lizard when they are transitioning to adulthood, and then do the rest like gators. It's fantasy, so you can do whatever serves your narrative best.

The idea of your dragons not having scales at all if they don't eat minerals is pretty darn contrary to biology. While it's fun fantasy flavor to add to the scales depending on what they eat, it would be pretty strange for them to be scaleless--they either have them or not.

Now, there are scaleless snakes--but they don't develop scales later. And scales, biologically, are there to help with a number of things including temperature regulation. While there are scaleless snakes, this is a mutation, Even the snakes considered scaleless often have ventral scales, along the belly, helping with their movement and locomotion.

Scales are made of keratin, and can be super tough. I can see the replacement scales having more minerals in them as a biologic process as they consume minerals, but even on a fantasy biologic level I don't buy them being completely without scales when they are young--the regular scales are the blueprint the mineral-filled ones can show fitness.

The closest biologic template I would say works is flamingos. They have feathers no matter what, and are born with grey feathers but their diet changes the color to pink. They don't not have feathers until they eat what changes them.

So your dragons will always have scales, but not every scale will have the minerals or some will have more minerals than others. The minerals are added to the template structure as in fish like koi or birds like the flamingo.

If you want a mineral example, look no further than humans. Colloidal Silver is used as a treatment, and it turns people a greyish blue. We have skin with or without the silver, but it tends to gather in the organs and stay, one of those happens to be skin.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good answer. The resource digestion is just to gather materials to make new scales. If the dragon were to continuously shed it's scales like crocodile, but wouldn't have enough resources in it's body to form a replacement then it obviously would have less scales. $\endgroup$ – Wel Wyrmin Jan 25 '18 at 9:39
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    $\begingroup$ @SirLightwave The closest biologic template I would say works is flamingos. They have feathers no matter what, and are born with grey feathers but their diet changes the color to pink. They don't not have feathers until they eat what changes them. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jan 25 '18 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ @SirLightwave just have them eat their shed scales, that is not uncommonin reptiles. It is also the solution Patrick Rothfuss used to give his dragons iron composite scales without running out of iron. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 23 '18 at 19:12
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Look at crocodiles they shed scales one at a time so there is never much risk. This is similar to how humans shed hair, individually so 99% is always there. And as JBH said it is only the outer most layer of the scale that is shed.

Or course if you are worried about replacing the metals just have them eat their shed scales,some reptiles do something similar and eat shed skin, then they can just keep concentrating metals in their scales.

they do not need to eat minerals per see, if they are using metal rich ores for gastroliths then they will have a steady supply of metal. living animals with gastroliths can be quite picky about which stones they swallow so licking and picking metal rich ones would not be unbelievable.

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The video game Monster Hunter plays around with this idea with a few of its dragons like the Kushala Daora, but most notably the flagship monster, the Gore Magala and its mature counterpart, the Shagaru Magala in the 4th installation of the series.

As others have mentioned in their answers, how they handle it with the Kushala is similar to a snake, and the Gore Magala by individual shedding of the scales like a crocodile. In fact, they introduce an "intermediate state" where the juvenile scales of the Magala have partially molten away. It's an interesting case since the shedding of the scales themselves are incorporated into the game mechanics and impact the behavior and biology of the juvenile version of the dragon.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Eriol! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jan 24 '18 at 20:03

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