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Conserved gene signalling and a derived patterning mechanism underlie the development of avian footpad scalesBackground: Vertebrates possess a diverse range of integumentary epithelial appendages, including scales, feathers and hair. These structures share extensive early developmental homology, as they mostly originate from a conserved anatomical placode. In the context of avian epithelial appendages, feathers and scutate scales are known to develop from an anatomical placode. However, our understanding of avian reticulate (footpad) scale development remains unclear. Results: Here, we demonstrate that reticulate scales develop from restricted circular domains of thickened epithelium, with localised conserved gene expression in both the epithelium and underlying mesenchyme. These domains constitute either anatomical placodes, or circular initiatory fields (comparable to the avian feather tract). Subsequent patterning of reticulate scales is consistent with reaction–diffusion (RD) simulation, whereby this primary domain subdivides into smaller secondary units, which produce individual scales. In contrast, the footpad scales of a squamate model (the bearded dragon, Pogona vitticeps) develop synchronously across the ventral footpad surface. Conclusions: Widely conserved gene signalling underlies the initial development of avian reticulate scales. However, their subsequent patterning is distinct from the footpad scale patterning of a squamate model, and the feather and scutate scale patterning of birds. Therefore, we suggest reticulate scales are a comparatively derived epithelial appendage, patterned through a modified RD system.