Jurenka, Russell A. Department of Entomology, Iowa State University of Science and Technology, Ames, Iowa.
Last reviewed:May 2021
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A white or colorless amorphous polysaccharide that forms a base for the hard outer integuments of crustaceans, insects, and other invertebrates. Chitin (see illustration) is an important nitrogenous polysaccharide that is found abundantly in nature. In fact, it is the second most abundant natural biopolymer. Chitin forms the basis of the hard shells of numerous arthropods, including crustaceans (for example, crabs, lobsters, and shrimp). Furthermore, the exoskeleton (outer covering) of insects and arachnids is chitinous, and the cell walls of certain fungi contain chitin. Functionally, chitin acts as a supporting or structural substance, as well as preventing loss of fluids and protecting soft parts and inner organs. Chitin can be obtained as an amorphous powder after dissolution of calcium carbonate with mineral acids and removal of the proteins. It is insoluble in water, dilute mineral acids, and alkali bases. See also: Arachnida; Arthropoda; Biopolymer; Crustacea; Fungi; Insecta; Molting in arthropods; Polysaccharide
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