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So I need some help as I’m in the process of creating dragons and I was given the idea of using the material that limpet teeth are made of for dragon scales which in theory should make them extremely tough and durable but flexible enough to be used in a biological animal.

Now although I did some research on limpet teeth by reading a study done on them by the NCBI but I’m not sure if I’m missing information on anything that may impede a dragon from forming these scales without it impeding flight. Because at least from what I was able to gather limpet teeth use iron or an iron like mineral to mineralize their teeth giving it a strength that exceeds spider silk. But then I made the assumption that it could be considered lightweight and if given to a dragon could be made possible from the mineralization of scales with iron like minerals from their food and could still allow flight and not restrict mobility cause it’s flexible.

So at least in theory I think this should be plausible and not so biologically far fetched or anything like that but I really wanted to ask if this would be biologically plausible and if not what problems would this cause? (Of course ignoring the fact that Dragons are for the most part biologically impossible)

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Skin covered with something like limpet teeth would resemble shark skin more than scales we commonly think of on a reptilian(-like) creature like a dragon, but there's no good biological reason a dragon couldn't grow them, especially if it wasn't evolved from pre-existing reptiles (a good bet if it has four legs and two wings). Weight wouldn't be a major issue in this form, certainly no more so than with classic dragon scales the size and hardness of a steel buckler shield.

The teeth, however (at least in the form seen on limpet tongues or shark skin) wouldn't make good armor for the dragon. Its skin would be incredibly abrasive, but would have very limited penetration resistance, so arrows and spears would be a vulnerability. Growing the same material into larger scales, however, doesn't seem implausible -- a dragon is much larger than a limpet, after all.

So you've got your dragon covered in scales the size of a hand, more or less (the smallest ones around the eyes might be smaller than a fingernail, while the biggest ones, on the back, could be the size of a shield in truth), each scale composed of a composite of protein similar to chitin (the material of insect exoskeletons or fingernails) and goethite (the mineral component of limpet teeth). Not only wouldn't those scales be much heavier than common lizard scales the same dimension, they might well be lighter (because, being so strong, they needn't be anything like as thick). No impediment to flight (beyond the one common to all versions of a dragon, that they can't have the power-to-weight ratio needed to fly due to the square-cube law).

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for your answer it was extremely helpful but I wanted to point out that the scales wouldn’t be texturized like limpet teeth they would just be composed of similar material to limpet teeth so it wouldn’t be abrasive in that sense. Also in terms of penetration I do agree that bows and spears may pose a problem but I also planned to make them denser to make it stronger and more resistant but not so dense that it exceeds weight limits. But thank you truly for your answer :) But If you have anything to point out I would love to hear it!!! $\endgroup$ – user84821 May 14 at 16:29
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I think the biggest problem you have is that limpet teeth have the highest tensile strength of any biological material. Unless something really unconventional is happening, tensile strength is just not a property important for armor. For the most part, a blunt attack would cause compressive stress and a slashing attack would cause shear stress. It just never happens in combat that someone grabs two sections of your skin and pulls them away from each other.

Lets assume that limpet teeth also have extremely high compressive and shear strength. Does it still make sense to model dragon's scales after them? Not really. As the paper explains:

This considerable tensile strength of limpet teeth is attributed to a high mineral volume fraction of reinforcing goethite nanofibres with diameters below a defect-controlled critical size, suggesting that natural design in limpet teeth is optimized towards theoretical strength limits.

The reason limpet teeth are so strong is not that they are made with a special material; rather they contain extremely few defects. By being so small and thin, the teeth can be constructed with very high accuracy. The problem is that this does not scale to larger sizes. As an article on this finding says:

"Generally as you make something bigger, the thing that you've got has more flaws in it. And those flaws reduce the strength of the structure."

Think of it this way, which do you think would have more mistakes; a Lego house build with 10 pieces or a Lego house build with 10,000 pieces?

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you so much for your answer but I just wanted to ask what do you then recommend for a material that can handle shear stress? Also I just wanted to point out while what you said is true I never planned on scaling up the fiber size specifically but the quantity of it to make the scales, although It still may not work as I anticipated but I’m glad that you answered but if you have any other thoughts or things to point out about the limpet scales it would be greatly appreciated :) $\endgroup$ – user84821 May 18 at 6:56
  • $\begingroup$ Abalone shells seem like a much better fit for what you are looking for: sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1751616107000021 $\endgroup$ – E Tam May 18 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you so much I’ll look into it!!! $\endgroup$ – user84821 May 20 at 6:26
  • $\begingroup$ Full disclosure; abalone shells is the explanation used in the Luke Cage TV show. It fits better with dragons though since shells are much more similar to scales than skin. $\endgroup$ – E Tam May 23 at 23:43

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