Scutes are similar to scales and serve the same function. Unlike the scales of fish and snakes, which are formed from the epidermis, scutes are formed in the lower vascular layer of the skin and the epidermal element is only the top surface. Forming in the living dermis, the scutes produce a horny outer layer, that is superficially similar to that of scales.
The dermal base may contain bone and produce dermal armour. Scutes with a bony base are properly called osteoderms. Dermal scutes are also found in the feet of birds and tails of some mammals, and are believed to be the primitive form of dermal armour in reptiles.
The term is also used to describe the heavy armour of the armadillo and the extinct glyptodon, and is occasionally used as an alternative to scales in describing snakes or certain fish, such as sturgeon.