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Zeitschrift für Kristallographie - Crystalline Materials

Editor-in-Chief: Pöttgen, Rainer

Ed. by Antipov, Evgeny / Bismayer, Ulrich / Boldyreva, Elena V. / Huppertz, Hubert / Petrícek, Václav / Tiekink, E. R. T.

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Volume 227, Issue 11 (Nov 2012)


Correlation of structure, composition and local mechanical properties in the dorsal carapace of the edible crab Cancer pagurus

Helge-Otto Fabritius / Eva Simone Karsten
  • Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung GmbH, Department Microstructure Physics and Alloy Design, Düsseldorf
/ Keerthika Balasundaram / Sabine Hild
  • Johannes Kepler Universität Linz, Institute of Polymer Science, Linz, Österreich
/ Katja Huemer / Dierk Raabe
Published Online: 2012-11-20 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1524/zkri.2012.1532


The exoskeleton of crustaceans is formed by the cuticle, a chitin-protein-based nano-composite with hierarchical organization over at least eight levels. On the molecular level, it consists of chitin associated with proteins forming fibres, which are organized in the form of twisted plywood. On the higher levels, the twisted plywood organization is modified and forms skeletal elements with elaborate functions. The load-bearing parts of crustacean cuticle are reinforced with both crystalline and amorphous biominerals. During evolution, all parts of the exoskeleton were optimized to fulfill different functions according to different ecophysiological strains faced by the animals. This is achieved by modifications in microstructure and chemical composition. In order to understand the relationship between structure, composition, mechanical properties and function we structurally characterized cuticle from the dorsal carapace of the edible crab Cancer pagurus using light and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The local chemical composition was investigated using energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) and confocal m-Raman spectroscopy. Nanoindentation tests were performed to study the resulting local mechanical properties. The results show local differences in structure on several levels of the structural hierarchy in combination with a very heterogeneous mineralization. The distal exocuticle is mineralized with calcite, followed by a layer containing a magnesium, phosphate and carbonate rich phase and ACC in the proximal part. The endocuticle contains magnesian calcite and ACC in special regions below the exocuticle. Structure and mineral phase are reflected in the local stiffness and hardness of the respective cuticle regions. The heterogeneity of structural organization and mechanical properties suggests remarkable consequences for the mechanical behaviour of the bulk material.

Keywords: Crustacean cuticle; Structure-property relations; Biomineralization

About the article

* Correspondence address: Max-Planck-Straße 1, 40237 Düsseldorf, GERMANY,

Published Online: 2012-11-20

Published in Print: 2012-11-01

Citation Information: Zeitschrift für Kristallographie - Crystalline Materials, ISSN (Print) 2194-4946, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1524/zkri.2012.1532.

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