Light and electron microscopy shows the osteoderms of Anguis fragilis to be small, flat disks located in the dermis along the adult trunk: microradiography established the extent of the mineralization.
Each osteoderm coincides exactly with an epidermal fold forming the keratinized scales characteristic of the skin of reptiles.
Sections perpendicular to the surface show two mineralized layers differing in histological and histochemical characteristics and in fine structure, although both contain collagen fibrils. The structure of each layer can be related to that of the surrounding dermis.
The outer superficial layer located in the loose dermis contains few collagen bundles that form a discontinuous sheet at the upper surface of the osteoderms. This superficial layer appears to be constituted of units separated by furrows and is composed of woven fibered bone.
The basal plate comprises stratified lamellae formed of parallel-oriented collagen fibrils; the fibrils of successive lamellae lie at right angles. The densely packed collagen fibrils of the basal plate are distributed similarly to those of the dense dermis within which it lies. This layer exhibits structural and histochemical characteristics of a lamellar bone.
The presence of two different layers in the osteoderms of Anguis fragilis may reflect their mode of formation, which consists of the deposit of mineral crystals in the preexisting dermal tissue. This mineralization process, considered as a “metaplastic ossification,” may reflect the potentiality retained by the dermis of reptiles to form mineralized structures.