We human primates evolved and innovated extreme flexibility of body and mind, partly because we grow flesh around, instead of within, a bony framework. Yet we envy and copy the crusty, scaly or shelly attire of many biological predecessors.

Who sports the best exoskeleton?

Echinoderms grow some of the most fancy and flashy. Mollusks grow plenty of ornate, effective examples.

According the California Museum of Paleontology website, arthropods have advanced within their chitinous armor to become the real rulers of our world. Three fourths of all known living organisms are arthropods, the article states.

Other chordates besides humans, such as the turtle, hedgehog, and bony fishes have revisited exoskeletal defense systems with great success.

Both exoskeletons and endoskeletons have advantages and disadvantages, but humans, as the most flexible living beings on earth, have merged ingenious "both/and" capabilities with insistent "do and/or die" attitudes since prehistoric days, and surged in shield inventing ever since.

An English print (ca 1844-1847) by artist Gideon Algernon Mantell of Two men dueling, dressed in armour comprising trilobite exoskeletons, being watched by a third man dressed as a medieval herald, but with a shell instead of a helmet, while a row of spectators with fossils and shells for hats observes, via Wikimedia Commons

This print by Gideon Algernon Mantell titled "Battle of the Trilobites" pokes fun at these human nature traits (and the results).

Still, materials scientists at MIT are studying the "scaly-foot" gastropod, Crysomallon squamiferum, hoping to design new and improved battle armor based upon features of its nearly uncrushable, tri-layered shell. The research team is planning to pick up shell construction tips, with military applications, from many armored animals in future projects.

However high-tech portable or mobile protection can serve peaceful or adventurous purposes just as well. HplusMagazine reports that the robotic exoskeletons being developed by the US Department of Defense to give soldiers a boost might become available for medical and recreational uses soon.

Now, I am pausing to imagine some of the relief, fun and trouble those advances could bring.

Have you ever wished you had a natural or high-tech exoskeleton? Have you ever dreamed of running, flying or swimming in powered armor? Do tell!