Hide and skin: what’s in it for you?24 November 2008
This is the first in a series of articles that will explain the principle components that are found in hides and skin, what their functions are in life and what their implications are for the tanner.
Let's start by looking at hide and skin in very general terms; what is the original purpose of this amazing material that we use to make leather from? Well, surprisingly, skin is a truly multipurpose material performing a whole host of functions that are essential for life. Among other things, it is a:
- Packaging material - it is an elasticated, self-sealing bag that safely contains everything within whilst still allowing free movement. Life would be very messy without it!
- Microbial barrier - it is a seal that prevents microbes entering and leaving the body. Without it a living creature would soon die from infection.
- Temperature regulator - it keeps a creature warm when the weather is cold and cools it down when it is hot.
- Umbrella - it offers protection from the elements; the sun and rain in particular.
- Identity card - it provides outwardly distinguishing features that enable other creatures to clearly identify species, gender or age.
- Camouflage - just as its shape and colouration provide a means of identification, it can also enable a creature to become barely visible in certain surroundings.
- Diagnostic tool - many serious diseases not directly associated with the skin have symptoms that visibly manifest themselves in the skin, eg jaundice.
- Water regulator - it provides a barrier that inhibits water loss and, therefore, stops the body becoming desiccated.
- Energy store - the body uses the skin to store fats as a future energy source. This fat also aids insulation in cold climates.
- Sensory organ - it houses nerve endings that enables a creature to feel things.
- Vitamin factory - vitamin D is produced in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. This vitamin is essential for the proper formation of bones.
- Grip/release tool - in some animals certain areas of the skin grow ridges to provide grip, eg soles of the foot. In others, mucus is produced to make the skin slippery and difficult to hold on to.
- Breathing mechanism - some creatures, eg frogs, absorb oxygen through their skin.