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Word of the Week: Plastron

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Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Plastron [ PLAS-truh] (noun): The bony plate forming the ventral part of the shell of a tortoise or turtle.

Everyone knows that turtles have shells and that they use their shells to protect themselves from predators like racoons or coyotes, but what many people don’t realise is how intricate and complex these shells really are, particularly the underbelly of the shell which is known as the plastron.

Plastron is derived from the latin word emplastrum which translates to ‘medical dressing’. Plastron can also refer to protective gear that humans wear in sports like fencing, and like turtles, the plastron protects the chest and upper stomach area.

At first glance, the plastron looks like a flat and hard underbelly but is actually made up of 9 different bones that are designed to protect different parts of the turtle’s underbelly. Some of these bones include the ribs and parts of the pelvis.

Most plastrons also display different patterns of lines, shapes and colours which allows people to distinguish them from other species. For some species, the plastron also helps differentiate the males from the females, since males possess a concave plastron and females convex.

Warmer days are the ideal time to see turtles basking in small pools of water. See if you can notice the different patterns on our shelled friends.