We quantified placoid scale morphology and flexibility in the shortfin mako Isurus oxyrinchus and the blacktip shark Carcharhinus limbatus. The shortfin mako shark has shorter scales than the blacktip shark. The majority of the shortfin mako shark scales have three longitudinal riblets with narrow spacing and shallow grooves. In comparison, the blacktip shark scales have five to seven longitudinal riblets with wider spacing and deeper grooves. Manual manipulation of the scales at 16 regions on the body and fins revealed a range of scale flexibility, from regions of nonerectable scales such as on the leading edge of the fins to highly erectable scales along the flank of the shortfin mako shark body. The flank scales of the shortfin mako shark can be erected to a greater angle than the flank scales of the blacktip shark. The shortfin mako shark has a region of highly flexible scales on the lateral flank that can be erected to at least 50°. The scales of the two species are anchored in the stratum laxum of the dermis. The attachment fibers of the scales in both species appear to be almost exclusively collagen, with elastin fibers visible in the stratum laxum of both species. The most erectable scales of the shortfin mako shark have long crowns and relatively short bases that are wider than long. The combination of a long crown length to short base length facilitates pivoting of the scales. Erection of flank scales and resulting drag reduction is hypothesized to be passively driven by localized flow patterns over the skin.
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