Whose Skin Covering Is This? By The Nature Collection for British Wildlife

Skin Coverings for Vertebrates

Animals have a huge variety of skin coverings. They are different colours and textures, each evolved to suit the animal's habitat and way of life. Many are coloured for camouflage but some have bright colours for display or special designs to startle a predator.

Mammals have hair on their body, which keeps them warm. Mammals are warm blooded which means that they need to keep their body at a constant temperature. Many mammal species grow a thicker coat in winter to keep them warm.

Hair is made of keratin, as are hooves and finger nails. Hair can be different colours but is often brown, for camouflage. The colour and texture changes on different parts of the body. Hairs on top of the body have to protect the animal from the wind and rain.

Birds have feathers all over their skin but usually not on the legs and feet. Feathers are different colours, textures and shapes depending on their function. Without feathers, birds could not fly. Feathers are also important for camouflage and display for males, to win a mate.

Birds are warm blooded too, so the feathers help them to keep warm. (They are so good at keeping the heat in, we often use duck or goose feathers in our duvets or winter jackets!) Feathers are made of keratin, like mammal hair and nails.

ReptileĀ skin is covered in hard, dry scales. These protect the body against knocks and scratches and keeps the body moist inside. Scales are often coloured, for camouflage.

Scales vary in size and shape depending on where they are on the body. The scales underneath the body catch on the rough surface of the ground, creating friction, which helps a snake to move.

Scales are made of keratin like our hair and nails. When reptiles grow, they shed their outer skin, which covers the scales.

Reptiles are cold blooded, so do not need to warm up. Their body temperature just matches the temperature of the surrounding air. Many hibernate in winter, when it becomes too cold.

Amphibians have thin, moist skin, with no hair, scales or feathers. Toads have warts all over their skin. The skin creates a layer of mucous which covers their body and keeps it moist and slippery. The skin is often well camouflaged, in greens and browns.

Amphibians can absorb oxygen and pass carbon dioxide out through the skin, which means they can actually breathe underwater. Water also passes though amphibian skin.

Amphibians are cold blooded. They hibernate in winter, maybe at the bottom of a pond or under a log.

Fish have scales all over their body. The scales overlap, like armour. They protect the fish from the environment and from predators. Some are coloured and many reflect light underwater, to help with camouflage.

Scales make the surface of the body smooth, which helps fish glide through the water. They also prevent the fish from becoming dehydrated, keeping enough water inside their body.

Fish scales are different shapes and sizes in different areas of the body. Fish have a 'lateral line' along the centre of their body. They use this to sense pressure and movement in the water, to avoid capture or to catch their prey. The scales on this line have a gap in the middle.

Let's look at some skin coverings and see if you can identify the animal, they belong to.

Shades of ginger, white and black
Soft, under the belly
Tough, waterproof hair on top
Red Fox
Dark zigzag pattern, down the middle of the body
A venomous Adder
White, ginger and black feathers
Soft, for silent flight!
Feathers around the eye ring, showing the ear hole
Stunning Barn owl
Soft, fluffy, brown hair
Rabbit. Well camouflaged!
Sharp at one end and a ball where they join the skin, so they can twist in all directions!
Hedgehog at The British Wildlife Centre
See the line, for sensing movement and pressure in the water
Reflect the light!
Chub fish
Black and white stripes!
Tough, bristly hair. Used for shaving brushes!
The skin is tough, leather inside
Striped, wing feather
Blue and black! Under a microscope.
Empty eyes!
Skin which has grown to cover different shaped scales. Rounded scales on top of the body and rectangles below, for moving across the ground.
Grass snake
Short, soft grey and brown hair
Pads under the feet for a soft landing
Claws for gripping tree trunks and branches!
Grey squirrel
Iridescent blue
Wing feather
Beautiful barbs!
Mallard duck
Well-camouflaged frog! No shedding skin!
Moist, slippery skin
Dense, thick, brown hair with white spots
Inside, the skin is leather!
Fallow deer
Toes covered in scales on top and rounded pads below, with sharp claws
Wood pigeon!
Long, iridescent, tail feathers
Hairy body. Wings covered in scales and hairs
Hairy body, big compound eyes, jointed legs and long antennae
Oak Eggar Moth. Oops, an invertebrate! I will make another link! :)

Photographer & Wildlife Educator

I am Susanna Ramsey and I have a unique collection of natural history objects relating to British Wildlife. Over the last ten years, I have assembled an extensive range of skulls, skeletons, bones, skins, feathers, wings, antlers, insect specimens and taxidermy, all from animals in the UK.

During 2010-2018, I took my Nature Collection into local primary schools to display and run workshops for the children, linking the exhibition to science topics in the National Curriculum such as Adaptations, Bones, Classification, Food Webs, Habitats, Life Cycles and Local Wildlife.

In 2018-2020, I worked with the leading schools' catalogue, TTS ,to create a range of Educational Resources for primary schools, nurseries, after school clubs and families. To find out more about these products, see below.

I am passionate about encouraging children and adults, to discover the beauty of our local wildlife.

Peacock feather. Not a UK bird, but stunning!

Exhibits and Thanks

Almost all of the animals in my collection were either found by myself, Susanna Ramsey, or donated by friends and family to The Nature Collection, as an educational resource. Huge thanks for all the tiny, carefully-wrapped bundles of feathers and bones, to Steve and Sam Read, John Lock, Chris Matcham, Franko Maroevic, Tim Howard, Jan Wilczur, Simon Richards, Peter Veniard, Paula Redmond, Phil Davis, Bob & Sally Black, Jo & Frank Sheppard and Katie Ramsey. Many of these people are naturalists and experts in their field; I am indebted to them too, for all that they have taught me about our local wildlife.

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to be a regular visitor to the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity at the Natural History Museum, London. The unimaginably-vast collection of British insect specimens, stored in row upon row, of metal, floor-to-ceiling cabinets has been a massive inspiration to me. There is something infinitely satisfying about the way every species has its own box, within a drawer, within a cabinet and that each can be found within minutes, by the care and expertise of the staff. To witness the incredible number of UK species of moth, beetle, butterfly, fly, grasshopper etc, is simply mind blowing and I feel so privileged to be able to visit and photograph some of the specimens!

I have used the photo stacking equipment at the Angela Marmont Centre to take highly-detailed photos of some of the specimens to put into slideshows for my primary school workshops. When I was young, I always wanted to be an archaeologist and it was my ambition to work in a museum; to sit in the Centre, using the equipment and handling the specimens, listening to the chatter of the experts at work, has been a dream come true. I am so grateful to the staff at the Centre for their encouragement and for always making me feel so welcome.

Thanks also to Tonja Grung, of Made from the Dead Taxidermy, for sharing her incredible knowledge, patience and skill. I will never forget our amazing sessions on animal taxidermy.

The delicate skeletons were cleaned to perfection by a colony of flesh-eating, dermestid beetles, skilfully managed by Edward de Geer.


If you know children who are interested in nature, are a teacher, or would like to learn more about British Wildlife yourself, explore the range of British Wildlife products recently created by The Nature Collection and the leading schools' catalogue, TTS.

The products are perfect for use in primary schools, nurseries, after school clubs, forest schools or at home with friends and family. Click on the links below to find out about each product.

Look & Learn Cards: British Birds, Mammals, Minibeasts

Food Webs Activity Pack

Classification: British Wildlife & Natural History

Identification Wheels: British Birds, Mammals & Minibeasts

Discovery Bags: British Birds, Mammals, Minibeasts

Playground Signboards: Birds, Mammals, Minibeasts

Birds ID Wheel, Food Webs pack, Mammal Look & Learn cards
Created By
Susanna Ramsey


Susanna Ramsey