Desquamation has always been one of my favorite words. I first encountered it as a young lad while reading the paperback edition of the 1986 Guinness Book of World Records. It appears there several times, most always as part of the caveats accompanying World Records having to do with being under water for a very long time.

The Guinness caveats were extremely entertaining; legal manueverings to avoid being sued if someone, say, attempted to best the record for stacking cinder blocks on his/her head.

I always assumed desquamation meant something like "being waterlogged to death" or "drowning through the skin". I had visions of people playing Monopoly under water for a week...and just as they were about to collect someone's final dollar as rent, desquamation! They swell up like sponges, skin splitting; a fatal case of prune hands right in front of the horrified eyes of Guinness arbitrators. Now this was World Record breaking at it's best: risking exotic and horrible death for the sake of bragging rights.

It wasn't until many years later that I discovered that desquamation meant "having your skin peel off". That, while certainly gross, is comparatively lacking in the drama department.

Maybe the "loss of innocence" that marks the transition from child to adult is, at its core, a matter of vocabulary. The mundane natures of treasured words are revealed, and the world loses a bit of its magic.

Thanks to the Guinness Book of World Records for making an eight-year-old kid see the world as a thing of endless wonder.

Desquamation is one of the ways that dolphins are able to swim as quickly as they do. As dolphins swim, their skin peels off in the water, to the tune of being completely replaced every two hours worth of swimming time.

Which is kinda gross, if you think about it.

But it's also a very good way to decrease drag. The dolphin's skin is very soft, with a microscopically wavy texture that allows it to both peel off easily and distribute the jetties (officially called "vortices") further away from the dolphin's path, thus mitigating much of the drag.

This was discovered in May, 2004, by a Japanese researcher named Yoshimichi Hagiwara, working at the Kyoto Institute of Technology, and was first published in the Journal of Turbulence (which is in turn published by the Institute of Physics), which is peer-reviewed.

The effect was discovered by a complex computer modelling application, because experimental data regarding dolphins was rather hard to come by.

Info from

Des`qua*ma"tion (?), n. [Cf. F. desquamation.] Med.

The separation or shedding of the cuticle or epidermis in the form of flakes or scales; exfoliation, as of bones.


© Webster 1913.

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