Types of Skeletal Systems


An exoskeleton is an external skeleton that consists of a hard encasement on the surface of an organism. For example, the shells of crabs and insects are exoskeletons (Figure). This skeleton type provides defence against predators, supports the body, and allows for movement through the contraction of attached muscles. As with vertebrates, muscles must cross a joint inside the exoskeleton. Shortening of the muscle changes the relationship of the two segments of the exoskeleton. Arthropods such as crabs and lobsters have exoskeletons that consist of 30–50 percent chitin, a polysaccharide derivative of glucose that is a strong but flexible material. Chitin is secreted by the epidermal cells. The exoskeleton is further strengthened by the addition of calcium carbonate in organisms such as the lobster. Because the exoskeleton is acellular, arthropods must periodically shed their exoskeletons because the exoskeleton does not grow as the organism grows.

Photo shows a crab with orange legs and a black body crawling on a tree.
Muscles attached to the exoskeleton of the Halloween crab (Gecarcinus quadratus) allow it to move.