The pangolin scale is a horny derivative of the epidermis. It is complex in structure and is divisible into three distinct regions. The dorsal plate forms approximately one-sixth of the scale thickness. It is composed of flattened solid keratinized cells without basophilic nuclear remnants. This region tends to fray easily. The dorsal plate contains bound phospholipids and sulphydryl groups but is weak in disulphide bonds.
The bulk of the scale is made up of the intermediate plate formed of less flattened cells without basophilic nuclei. This region is rich in disulphide bonds but contains no appreciable bound phospholipids or sulphydryl groups.
The ventral plate is only a few cells thick and is rich in bound phospholipids, which also occur in the underlying scale bed epidermis.
These three regions of the scale are formed from separate epidermal germinal areas which do not develop a granular layer. Keratohyalin granules are, however, formed in the epidermis between the scales.
It is suggested on the basis of histological structure and dishribution of chemical constituents that pangolin scales are probably homologous with primate nails.
Evidence against the views that they are homologous with reptilian scales or are derived from compressed hairs is presented.