Claws and Talons
(Singular nouns: Fr-griffe et serre,  ; Ger-Klaue/Kralle und Talon, Huf ; Nor-klo og klo; Rus- коготб & талон )

A. Claws. Simulants -- "Realistic Wolf Claws ... made using casts from real claws using plastic resin and then hand painted."  (© photo by Chichester, Inc.,

B. Talons. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus (Linnaeus, 1758)) with talons extended.  Kennedy Space Center, Florida.  (National Aeronautics and Space Administration photo Number KSC-04PD-1248)

DESCRIPTION:   Claws and talons consist of solid keratinous tissues that have been characterized variously as fibrous composite keratin and keratotic biopolymers.  Each typically comprises a layered plate-like structure.  Only the claws of vertebrates are included in this entry -- i.e., the claws of animals such as the arthropods are not included here.

    Colors - nearly colorless, white, off-white, black, gray, brownish, tan, bluish, yellow (especially talons), amber, ...
    H.    ~2½ <<  an example of plate-like keratin-rich material.
    S.G.    ~1.29 <<  an example of plate-like keratin-rich material.
    Light transmission - transparent to semitranslucent  
    Luster - pearly to vitreous  
    Breakage - irregular (brittle)
    MiscellaneousClaws and talons tend to curve downward when on the animal. 

OTHER NAMES:  None, so far as I know, is used to designate any of these materials after they have been fashioned into jewelry or decorative objects.  But, it is noteworthy that talons are frequently referred to as claws both orally and in publications (including those on the internet).

     Jewelry - Necklaces are especially common:  Those featuring claws or talons of a single species, those with claws or talons of two or more species, and those that consist largely of other materials but have only one or a few claws or talons as accents are marketed.  Relatively recently, body piercing jewelry featuring claws and talons has become rather common.   Individual bear claws used as pendants and several claws used as necklaces are apparently used in two ways;  1. to tell others that the person wearing it or them has "bagged" a bear   and    2.  strictly  as ornamental  jewelry (see C, below).

C. Claws.  Bear claw necklace (length ~70 cm) with six American black bear (Ursus americanus Pallas, 1780) claws, five turquoise nuggets and 12 silver beads. (© photo by Barbara Shiningstar, from )                                        

     Decorations - Examples are those hung from belts, clothing and pouches;  they commonly include claws, dew claws or both.
     Talismans - These have found widespread use by hunters, who have carried such charms fashioned from the claws or talons of the animal or bird they are hunting.

OCCURRENCES & LOCALITIES: Wherever the species from which they are taken lives (either in the wild or captivity).

REMARKS:  Claw is from Old English (clawu) via Middle English (clawe).  Talon is from Latin tālus (ankle) via Old French talon (heel) and Middle English taloun.  Current application of these three terms is not consistent -- e.g., birds' talons are sometimes called claws.

Among the animals whose claws or talons have been used in jewelry and/or decorative items are the following:  Claws badgers, black and grizzly bears, beavers, bobcats, cougars, coyotes, deer, foxes, house cats, kangaroos, leopards, lions, lynx, mountain lions, porcupines, wolverines, and wolves;  Talons - chiefly raptors, especially eagles, but also, for example, emus and several other birds, the talons of which are sometimes referred to as claws.  In addition, dewclaws (i.e., claws on vestigial digits that do not reach ground) of, for example, bison, deer and elk have also been used.
Claws of animals have been worn or carried by members of diverse cultures.  Examples include the following:  1. A 6th century(!?) animal claw, worn as part of an Anglo-Saxon necklace, found near Glen Parva, Leicestershire (Smith, 1907, p.230);  2. A "Talon of an Eagle, bored for suspension," found in one of the graves at an Anglo-Saxon cemetery north of Alfriston, Sussex (Griffith & Salzmann, 1914, p.25);  3. Bear claws worn by Vikings, apparently as a sign of their strength in battle;   [and]  3. A "Dakota (Sioux) necklace of Venetian beads, fossil crinoid stems, and [Grizzly] bear claws [so-to-speak emphatic 'beads,' dated] c.1850," which is shown by Dubin (1987, p.265).  By the way, the Leicestershire claw and the Sussex talon are interpreted to support the widely accepted hypothesis that "Keratinous claws of birds or animals may have been more common as amulets than the surviving tentative indications might suggest." (MacGregor, 1985, p. 110).   More recently, Callaway (2015) has published a short paper, including a photograph, that supports the conclusion that  some 130,000 years ago, Neanderthals in present day Croatia used eagle tallons as jewellery (sic) -- i.e., "the talons of white-tailed eagles found ...[at the site] show cut marks and patterns of wear that suggest the claws were donned as personal ornaments." 

Nonanimal claws:  Sweet rolls with the general shape of bear claws;  Maine Bear Paws, a confection, made in honor of the University of Maine's Black Bears;  molded plastic "bear paws" (with six "claws"), used in pairs to handle hot meat, etc.;  bear claw mittens;  the well known Bear Paw pattern used for patchwork quilts and pillows; etc. etc

-- Please excuse this last “aside”:  I just couldn’t resist including the following "clause about claws," which was related to me by a wordsmith friend:  “His Christmas eve chores done, Santa’s elves’ held their annual New Years celebration ‘Claws for Claus,’ the menu of which featured lobsters and 'bear claw sweetrolls.'”

SIMULANTS:   Some replicas may be better classed as Simulants, and visa versa.  The choices made here are based on my observations, granted rather limited. 

Bone - "A piece of bone, cut into the form of a talon and bored for suspension ... with a broken ring still in the hole" was found in one of the graves at an Anglo-Saxon cemetery north of Alfriston, Sussex (Griffith & Salzmann,1914, p.25). - [If bone simulants for claws and talons were fashioned and marketed today -- I have seen none reported -- close observation should suffice to distinguish them from bone.].

***Plastics - Plastic imitation bear claws, eagle talons, etc. are marketed widely. - [Close observation usually suffices.].

***Resin - Claws of several animals have been replicated by making casts in molds produced from real claws, and, in some cases, the casts have been dyed or painted to make them more nearly resemble natural claws (Fig. A). - [Close observation usually suffices.].

REPLICAS:  See introductory statement under SIMULANTS subheading.

Several metals and alloys have been used in the production of replicas of claws and talons.  Examples are  gold, silver, pewter, surgical steel  and an unnamed alloy prepared
and fashioned into the legs and talons of a wood carving of an European Jay (Garrulus glandarius (Linnaeus, 1758)) made for me in the late1950s by my friend Ole Randøy (d) of Kongshavn, NorwayLife-size replicas of claws and talons fashioned from surgical steel are marketed as so-called body-piercing jewelry.  Pyrex glass replicas of eagle talons, and I suspect other claws and talons, are marketed.

| Top | Home |

R.V. Dietrich © 2015
Last update: 
13 March 2015
web page created by Emmett Mason