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Falscale are large bugs that parasitize dragons in a most unusual way. You see, they take off a dragon's scales and take their place. There are two ways this could work:

  1. A Falscale takes off a dragon scale, attaches it to their back (essentially grafting it to their own body), and then settles into the niche the scale once occupied

  2. A Falscale removes and eats a dragon scale, settles into the scale's former location, then grows layers of protective chitin on its back. These extra layers will incorporate the consumed scale, therefore resulting in decent protection for parasite and host

I'm not sure which method is the most effective or feasible, but the idea is that Falscale will attack a dragon like a swarm of locusts, take the scales off the unfortunate victim, then take the scale's place on the dragon's body.

My question is therefore: Under What Conditions Could This Trait Develop?

In other words, what would it take to get a species of bugs that will attack dragons in swarms, remove its scales, and then take the place of said scales?

EDIT: Since it has been pointed out to me that I must explain my dragon's origins, I will do so now. Dragons in Alendyias are descended from lizards, which thanks to certain Enchantments gained their current from. More on that can be found here. Because of this, Falscale are almost certainly going to evolve from bug parasites and use Mimicry to achieve the desired effect (ie. replacing dragonscales).

Clarification:

To make things clear, Falscale use the two methods specified above to not only remove scales, but to incorporate them into their own bodies for additional protection.

The 1st method basically grafts a scale onto the Falscale's back, protecting it after it embeds itself into the skin so it can leech nutrients and oxygen from its host's blood. The 2nd method is more complicated; the Falscale removes a scale, eats it, and incorporates the scale into the chitin on its back, essentially forming a protective plate atop the embedded parasite. Either way, you get parasitic armor.

"But, what's the benefit?" This is the twisted genius of this strategy; after the swarm has landed and settled in, it has essentially become the dragon's skin. Would you tear your skin off? No, that's ridiculous-and thus the parasite assures it will not be removed.

Additionally, thanks to the Mimicry Enchantment, it's actually perfectly feasible for Falscale to do what they do; all they're doing is replicating the consumed scale (or the removed scale's attachment to the body). And because the Mimicry enchantment is so integral to dragons, it's not exactly hard for the Falscale to gain it from their host.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm going to guess that this parasite evolved alongside your dragons. Without knowing the specifics of how your dragons evolved we'd be building large portions of your world for you. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 11, 2021 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings: ah, sorry about that! I'll add an edit and see if that helps, okay? $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 11, 2021 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ So in essence you're asking about a parasite that doesn't live between scales but a parasite that attaches scales to itself? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 11, 2021 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ One, two or even five falscales might be able to live on the dragon as parasites. But if a whole swarm came up and basically replaced the dragon’s entire body body armour, wouldn’t it notice and try to remove them? The parasites might have some weakness like high altitudes or extreme heat. Just a question. $\endgroup$
    – m-Xylene
    Sep 11, 2021 at 1:59
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    $\begingroup$ While you're at it you might want to ask yourself is it worth it to try to shoehorn an explanation for how parasites evolved in a world where there are literal dragons. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 11, 2021 at 2:30

2 Answers 2

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This is a very interesting concept, and to me it seems like it's honestly not particularly far fetched. In terms of asking how this behaviour could evolve, you have to ask how it benefits the falscales, and you've already provided some answers. Firstly, by replacing and mimicking dragon scales, the falscale disincentivises the dragon removing them because this leaves the dragon unprotected. Secondly, by defending it's host, the falscale is improving it's own chances of survival. Assuming the falscales are obligate parasites (which seems reasonable given what you've said), they need live dragons in order to survive and breed. Parasites which actually improve the longevity of their hosts exist in our world so this also makes sense.

In regards to swarming, this gets a bit more difficult, and you have to provide more details. If falscales are living on dragons presumably they're doing something like drinking the dragon's blood to survive? If they're doing this, or something like it, then too many falscales on one dragon will kill it, which produces a natural negative feedback loop that would keep their population density quite low. However, you might still get something akin to swarming depending on a couple more important details you haven't currently given.

If a falscale attaches to a dragon and lives there for the rest of its life, breeding and producing offspring that parasitize the same dragon, then you will run into the problem I mentioned above. If falscales reproduce sexually then you also have to ask when does this take place in their lifecycle? Do they detach, mate with each other, and then die? Do females mate once at the start of their life, and then store sperm until they need it? Do they metamorphasize? Perhaps going through a lifestage where they live somewhere completely different before they have to migrate to a dragon host. Many real life parasites have multi-stage lifecycles that involve parasitizing multiple different species. If falscale don't do this, and move straight from dragon to dragon, then females might evolve to time their breeding for when their host dragon comes into contact with another dragon, so that their offspring can infect a different individual and avoid overpopulation. If falscale don't go dragon to dragon, and have a lifestage somewhere else, then how does this lifestage find a dragon host when it reaches maturity?

It could also be the other way around, perhaps adult falscale are larger herbivorous insects that have to find a dragon to lay their eggs on? This would make them a bit like a parasitoid wasp. But in this case you wouldn't get a flying swarm of falscales attacking and eating a dragons scales, you would get a flying swarm of mothers injecting eggs which THEN hatch and eat the scales.

In regards to which makes more sense, eating the scale or attaching it, attaching the scale would require the species to have pre-evolved some strong method of attaching things to it's back for some other purpose. For example, the species falscales evolved from could be a bit like hermit crabs that attach stones to their back for defence. Without something like this, eating the scales and then mimicking them with chitin is much more likely, since there would be a clear evolutionary path from a proto-falscale that removes but doesn't replace a scale, all the way to a the modern falscale that has evolved to mimic the scale it removes.

I hope you find this helpful, and sorry that so much of my 'answer' is more questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ No need to aplogize, your answer was really well-crafted, one of the best I've seen! Welcome to the site Hayden, and thanks for your points on swarming and reproduction! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 13, 2021 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ I have to say, though, once the Falscales essentially become their host's scales, they'll be hooked up to the bloodstream and therefore gain nutrients and oxygen from said bloodstream like a real scale would. As for the breeding, I'll have to think on that.... $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 13, 2021 at 22:58
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Falscale bugs, like dragons, started from a "lesser" species, evolving from a parasites that fed by attaching themselves to lesser creatures. Over time it develops the ability to mimic its victims skin or scales. Thus giving it a better chance to remain undetected. The tougher the bugs shell is obviously the better its chance to resist attempts at removal and damage. This has the added benefit that it protects the host/victim and by extension the parasite itself. I think its easy to extend this to the point that the bugs can feed off dragons especially if the bug have a touch of magic in them.

If a dragon ever lost a scale for any reason it should seek out a Falscale replacement. Unless dragons can grow replacements themselves of course.

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