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Word of the Week: Scute

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

Scute [skyoot] (zoology noun): A bony external plate or scale overlaid with keratin, as on the shell of a turtle, the skin of crocodilians, and the feet of some birds.

A turtle’s shell is a complex shield for the ventral and dorsal parts of a turtle’s body. It completely encloses all of the turtle’s vital organs and, in some cases, even the head. The shell is made up of many bony elements as well as a series of scutes that are made of keratin and cover the entire top surface of the shell.

A turtle’s shell never falls off and is never too large or too small because it grows with the turtle.

As a turtle and its shell grow together, the scutes shed or peel away to make way for the new, larger scutes. Shedding is a natural process and the scutes are shed sporadically when the turtle is swimming and basking.

With the recent warm weather, turtles are on the go again! Keep an eye out for turtles, like Red-eared Sliders, Painted Turtles, and Snapping Turtles, that are crossing the roads in and around High Park, especially during the nesting season. If you spot one on the road and it’s safe to do so, pull over to let it cross or help it along! Most turtles can be picked up on either side of their shell and moved (always in the direction it’s facing or originally traveling!) across the road if needed. For a Snapping Turtle, a shovel or car mat can be used to move it while maintaining your distance!