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Desert Diary



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Ah, the days of yore and knights in armor. How romantic! Of course, much more romantic when separated by several hundred years from actually having to wear the infernal contraption. Heavy, hot, and chafing, workaday armor had only one appeal to knights and conquistadors—it might save their lives.

But armor was invented many millions of years before knights appeared, and even today, most complex animals are armored. We're all familiar with snails and clams, of course, but we should also remember that arthropods, the group of animals that include insects, scorpions, crabs, and relatives, have exoskeletons. When we hear the word skeleton we usually think of the bones inside of us, but most animals wear their skeletons on the outside—which is what exoskeleton means.

Thus not only does this skeleton support the body and give places for muscles to attach, but it also gives physical protection—thus armor. That beetle traipsing across the desert floor would not have been invited to sit at King Arthur's round table, but it's every bit as well protected as his knights—and then some.

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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

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Armored Flea

Although a flea's armor is not the heaviest, it demonstrates the plate-like structure nicely. After Lutz, 1921.