Under construction May 2011

Acuminate: tapering gradually to a sharp point.

Aeriform: Has air pockets or gaps

Alveolar: Has air pockets

Annular: ring-shapes. Referring to scales that go all the way around the shaft, also called coronet or stacked-cups.  “curved intersquamous lines almost parallel” on some kinds of hair, but if the edges are really irregular, they may be called “irregular annular” and are seen on cows, pigs, goats etc.  It can be really hard to tell if these irregular scales actually go all the way around the shaft.


Apical the tip of the hair

Banded: colored stripes visible to the naked eye on the overall hair.  The color changes radically in a short distance along the hair shaft.

Basal: the end of the hair that is close to the root.  Also called proximal.

Blue pelt  Taken during the late summer when the skin has slate color and the fatty tissues were thought to dissolve.  Fur color tends to be the deepest.  The bulbs of the guard hair roots tend to come through the skin, so some will be lost during the processing of the pelt.  The pelt is called “early caught,” especially in the fall. (Bachrach 1953)

Bucky tough skinned (Bachrach 1953)

Buff: pale orange-yellow coloration

Burnt smoke-dried skin that has shrivelled and cracked in the drying process.  If you bend it, it will crack. (Bachrach 1953)

Case-handled pelt removed from the animal by slitting at the rear end of animal and turning it inside-out, but then it is righted so the fur is on the outside and it looks like an animal with no body inside. (Bachrach 1953)

Chevron scale pattern: Edges of individual scales have multiple elongated points that make up a comb-like pattern overall.  Think of the blade on a pair of hair clippers.  The points and valleys can also be irregular.  Differs from Lanceolate or Petal, where the points are each individual scales.

Compounded medulla: composed of several independent aggregations arrangled in longitudinal, parallel rows, very common at the base of rodent hairs, gives medulla a polka-dot look

Coronal scales: One scale fully encircles the hair, and the next scale fits into it like stacking paper cups.  Crown-like.  Usually found of hairs of fine diameter, such as bats and rodents.

Cortex: the main body of the hair shaft, between the cuticle and the medulla, containing pigment granules, cortical fusi, and ovoid bodies.  If the cortex is thin, the hair will be brittle (such as caribou).

Cortical fusi: Irregular spindle-shaped (long and pointy on both ends) air pockets in the cortex, especially seen in cows.  Much larger than pigment granules.

Cortical intrusions: areas where the cortex extends into the medulla region, seen as rounded fingers or bulges?


Crenate scales: (crenelated) scale margins with sharp pointed teeth.  Not as deep as rippled scale margins.

Cuticle: Translucent outer protective layer of the hair shaft, made up of overlapping scales that cover the shaft much as bark covers a tree.

Denatate: toothed or serraded on the edge.  Some people use this term to describe scales that have a chevron shape going on as well.

Diagnostic: Revealing a feature that leads to secure identification

Diamond petal: Petal-shaped scales that are stacked in a way to make each scale into almost a diamond shape. See petal-like scales

Distal: the tip end of the hair

Dorsal: From the back of the animal

Dressing In the fur industry, the word refers to a process of preserving the skin in a flexible state and cleanse the hair to improve luster. “Dressing” is distinct from “tanning” which refers to making leather without concern for the hair. (Bachrach 1953)


Flat Fur: A pelt with only one kind of fur or hair, lacking in the guard hair, usually.  Examples include hair seal or Persian lamb.

Fulvous: A combination of grey and brown coloration.  Tawny.

Fur: Can either refer to the overall coat of an animal or sometimes limited to the woolly underfur only.  From the Old French or German “fuerre” or “fore” meaning sheath or covering (Samet 1950)

Fusiform: Also called “spindle-like” meaning elongated with points at both ends.  Most hair has an overall fusiform shape with points at both ends, and so do many of the cells of the cortex as well as the cortical fusi.

Glazing Brushing with a liquid to straighten shaggy hair (Samet 1950)


Grease burn damage caused when fatty tissues touch each other without air circulation for an extended period (Bachrach 1953)

Grizzled: coloration that is sprinkled or streaked with gray, but individual hairs are not banded

Grotzen Yiddish word for the half-moon shaped growth of guard hair on the back of the neck and along the center back of a pelt that resembles a mane. (Bachrach 1953)  Might come from german expression for spinal column area?  Also called the “mane” in fur industry.  Cneter back area, often darker than the rest of the fur, except on the badger where it is lighter.  Often it is the coarsest guard hair on the body. (Samet 1950)

Guard Hair: Coarse hairs that provide protection and are generally longer than the underfur and contain more diagnostic information.  Scale patterns and medulla of the guard hairs are usually different than those of the underfur.

Hard pelt Taken late, after the prime season.  Usually means after winter.  (Bachrach 1953)

Honeycomb: A non-overlapping scale pattern that looks like polygons butted up against each other.  Sometimes called mosaic or lattice.

Imbricate scale pattern: In Brown 1942, a wide range of scale types are called imbricate, and it is simply a term he uses to  in contrast to “coronal” which are the crown-shaped stacked cups.  For Brown, “imbricate” simply means overlapping to make a pattern, as roof shingles or fish scales do.  Sometimes imbricate referes to scales with irregular wavy edges on the margins.   The furskin website seems to call imbricate scales tile-like.

Keratin: fibrous protein that forms the chemical structure of hair.

Lanceolate scale pattern: Long narrow pointed individual scales that side by side make a pattern that is comb-like.  Differs from chevron where a single scale has multiple peaks. See petal-like scales

Lattice medulla: Struts of keratin outline polyhedral-shaped spaces, each continuous with its neighbors.

Lattice scales: Sometimes called mosaic or honeycomb

Letting out Making a skin longer and narrower.  Striped-looking sewing is seen on the back of the skin in this process where a piece of fur is cut in diagonal strips and then sewn back together with each one shifted slightly.  In this way you can change a fur square of 8”x8” to a rectangle of fur 32” x 2” to aid in garment making. (Samet 1950)


Luster A shiny-ness due to the reflection of light from the outside scales of the hair.  Related to the edges of the scales being set close together and folded tightly against the cortex.  If the free edges of the scales stand up away from the shaft, the hair will appear dull and the fibers will felt together easily.  Deeper color aids in light reflection and creates greater luster.   Luster is the result of scales that are very regular and unbroken.  If the scales are too long the appearance is dull. (Bachrach 1953) 

Margin: The outline of the free edge of the scale.  Brown 1942 describes them as rounded, acute (pointed), elongate (a little bit pointy but you can see quite a bit of their sides as well), rough (toothy), or flattened (scales are close together and the margin is fairly smooth).

Medulla: The central core of cells in the hair shaft.  Cells are usually thin-walled and filled with air.  Medulla can be present or absent, continuous, interrupted (evenly spaced bits,) or fragmented (discontinuous in a random way.)  If it is filled with air, it is dark under transmitted light and white under reflected light.  If it is filled with mounting medium or other clear substance, the medulla appears clear or translucent in transmitted light or almost invisible under reflected light (Deedrick and Koch 2004.)  Can be loosely-packed or closely-packed, globular, or flattened.

Medullary Index: Ratio of the overall diameter of the hair shaft divided by the diameter of the medulla.  Most mammals are between 0.5 and 0.9

Melanin: a dark pigment found in hair.

Micrometer: Also called a micron.  A one-thousandth of a meter.  Since an instrument to measure microns is also called a micrometer, the term micron is used for this project.

Micron: A one-thousandth of a meter.  Also called a micrometer.  Since an instrument to measure microns is called a micrometer, too, the term micron is used for this project.  Move microns back two decimal places to get millimeters.

Mosaic (regular and irregular) sometimes called lattice or honeycombed.  Mosaic scale patterns can have a bubble-wrap appearance, might look like polygons butted together, or may look like rocks in the bottom of a stream.

Multiserial: A word used to describe the medulla in certain animals that have parellel rows of an ordered structure that often looks like side-by-side ladders.

Open-handled pelt removed from the animal by slitting it under the legs and the belly like a rug. (Bachrach 1953)

Ovoid Body: An oval or round dark shape in the cortex that is not pigment or cortical fusi.

Pectinate: Small, closely spaced petal-shaped individual scales that give an overall comb-like appearance or seem like a snake with long narrow scales.  See petal-like scales.

Pelage: the hairy covering of an animal

Pelt: the untanned hide or skin of an animal with the fur, hair or wool still attached.  A peltery is a group of commercial pelts sold in the fur trade.

Pelt-out pelt removed from the animal by slitting at the rear end and turning it inside out.  After it is removed, it is left with the skin side out and the fur not easily visible. (Bachrach 1953)

Petal-like scales: Each individual scale is in the shape of a flower petal, also called spinous, pecintate, or lanceolate.  Roughly triangular in shape and can protrude from the hair shaft.  Common on the area of the shaft closest to the skin on some mustelids and seals.  Also categorized as diamond petal, lanceolate, pectinate, regular petal, and spinous.  There are different terms for scales that have multiple tips on each scale, such as chevron, scalloped,  or wave.

Pigment: Granules of material, often melanin, that give the hair color.  Usually seen in the cortex, but occasionally in the scales or in the medulla as well.  Distribution, clumping, streakiness etc can be diagnostic especially in rodents (Brown, 1942)

Piscine: Short scales of uniform size, shape and having curved smooth margins like fish scale.  Particularly refers to scales seen on deer, elk, moose, caribou etc.

Polyhedral: Refers to scale shape that is large in relation to the diameter of the shaft, sometimes in a hexagonal shape as seen on the scales of sheep.  This hexagonal shape is sometimes called “pavement polyhedral”

Prime  skin trapped when the fur and pelt are healthiest.

Proximal: the end of the hair that is close to the root.  Also called basal.

Re-set   A fur industry technique where the skin is cut into strips and reswen to reduce the amount of bunk and thickness of a fur.  This makes garments easier to construct and drapes better.  Mentioned in Samet (1950) section on fox fur.

Regular petal: petal-shaped scales that make an even fish-scale like pattern.  See petal-like scales.

Reticular: Forming a network or netlike pattern, such as the veins in a leaf

Rippled: indentations on the scale margins that are deeper than crenate margins

Rodent base:  mathiak?

Scale: Overlapping or abutting shapes that make up the cuticle layer on the outside of the hair shaft.  Margin ends of the scales always point toward the distal tip of the hair. 

Saccate = pocket-shaped

Scalariform = ladderlike 

Scale index: In Mayer (1952)  it is “the quotient obtained by dividing the diameter of the hair into the greatest exposed proximo-distal scale length a the point at which the hair diameter was measured.”  With this method, shafts with small diameters tend to have large scale indicies and ones with small shaft diameters have large scale indicies.  For Chakraborty et al. (1999) the authors used differences in side-to-side (SS) and proximo-distal scale length (PD).  Must be careful to compare whatever sample you have at a similar shaft width in order to make comparison accurate.  We have not used this in the Alaska fur ID project.

Scalloped: scale margins with broad round teeth.

Shield: a sudden broadened region along the shaft, seen in mink etc.  Gives the overall silhouette of the hair a paddle or spear-like profile.

Singed or singey When the tips of the guard hairs weaken and turn over instead of standing erect.  Usually happens with the first warm spell in the spring.  Those guard hairs must be plucked for the pelt to be marketable. (Bachrach 1953)  Sometimes occurs in the summer as well (Samet 1950)

Spinous: See petal-like scales.

Springy pelt (aka shelly pelt) quality of a skin during the shedding period of molting when it gets sinewy and tough and has a reddish tinge.  Means the animal was taken in the spring after the prime season.  If it was very springy, the skin will rattle like a shell and is called “shelly” (Bachrach 1953)  Pelt is tougher, leather is “bucky” or difficult to work and the fur begins to shed.  (Samet 1950)

Strictures: areas where the diameter of the hair shaft suddenly narrows, as in the transition into the shield region for hairs that have a spear shape overall (called a “subshield stricture”)

Tile-like scales: The term used on the furskin website for overlapping scales that are not stacked cups (coronal).

Timber an English term for a bundle of 40 pelts

Tricology: the branch of medicine that studies the hair or the scalp

Underfur: The soft fine hairs that make up the undercoat and provide warmth and insulation.  Sometimes called “wool” or “fur.”  Scale pattern and medulla of the underfur are usually different from the guard hairs.

Uniserial: A word used to describe the medulla in certain animals that has a single row of an ordered structure that often looks like a  ladder.

Vacuolated: a vacuole is a small cavity, so these are small membrane-bound cavities or voids in the medulla.

Whiteman handling leaving too much fat on skins resulting in grease burn (Bachrach 1953)

Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *


%d bloggers like this: