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Fossil-Treasures-of-Florida-Newsletter, Issue #0004 -- What the heck is a "scute"?
October 06, 2009

Fossil Newsletter, Issue #0004 -- What the heck is a "scute"?

October 6, 2009

In this Issue:

* Human Evolution Just Got Older.
* What the heck is a "scute"?

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Human Evolution Just Got Older.

4.4 Million Year old pre-human skeleton discovered. The Oldest Hominid skeleton has been discovered in Africa and pre-dates "Lucy" by a million years. Click here to read about Oldest Hominid Discovery.

What the heck is a "scute"?

People often ask me what the heck a “scute” is. Basically, it is a boney plate that floats in the skin or is a part of a carapace shell of some type. “Scute” is taken from the Latin scutum or scuta, meaning “shield”. It is, also, called a dermal occicle or osteoderm and can form dermal armor. The shape is usually a round or square boney plate with pits in it. Each scute has unique markings telling us what kind of animal and often what species they came from. They frequently fossilize because of their boney hardness and often survive when the rest of the animal does not. Most commonly found in Armadillos, Crocodilians, Turtles and Tortoises.

Many fossil scutes, of this type, can be found in Florida. For example, the backs of Alligators and Crocodiles have rows of these scutes or boney plates and are covered with a leathery skin. Not only do these osteoderms, or scutes, act as armored plates, but they may help in collecting solar heat for these reptiles. Alligator Scutes have a central ridge, while Crocodile Scutes do not. Often, when the animal dies, the “scutes” can become fossilized.

The turtle shell, or carapace, is made up of many connecting scutes that can fossilize. Many fossilized turtle scutes can be found, in Florida, from parts of the shell; like nuchal scutes, marginal scutes, vertebral scutes and part of the bottom, of the shell called the plastron.

Giant fossil Armadillo scutes and Glyptodont scutes can be found, in Florida, by the hundreds in one location (although, not often). It is estimated that a 2 ton Glyptodont may have had over 2,000 scutes making up its armored shell.

Sloth dermal scutes can occasionally be found (if you know what your looking for) that grew in the skin of the sloth. These fossils can give paleontologist clues to the anatomy of the skin of mammals long extinct.

Stingray dermal plates from the tail can, also, be found. Even a number of Dinosaurs had osteoderms or scutes, but no Dino’s in Florida. If you are going to hunt fossils in Florida, you WILL come across fossil scutes.

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