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Diagram of a prawn, with the carapace highlighted in orange
The molted carapace of a lady crab from Long Beach, New York
A molted carapace of Cancer irroratus from Long Beach, New York

A carapace is a dorsal (upper) section of the exoskeleton or shell in a number of animal groups, including arthropods such as crustaceans and arachnids as well as vertebrates such as turtles and tortoises. In turtles and tortoises, the underside is called the plastron.

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Crustaceans

In crustaceans, the carapace is a part of the exoskeleton that covers the cephalothorax. It is particularly well developed in lobsters and crabs.

The carapace functions as a protective cover over the cephalothorax. Where it projects forward beyond the eyes, this projection is called a rostrum. The carapace is calcified to varying degrees in different crustaceans.

Zooplankton within the phylum Crustacea also have a carapace. These include Cladocera, Copepods, Ostracods, Amphipods, and Isopods, however Isopods only have a developed "cephalic shield" carapace covering the head.

Arachnida

Diagram of an arachnid, with the carapace highlighted in purple

In arachnids, the carapace is formed by the fusion of prosomal tergites into a single plate which carries the eyes, ocularium, ozopores (a pair of openings of the scent gland of Opiliones) and diverse phaneres.

In a few orders, such as Solifugae and Schizomida the carapace may be subdivided. In Opiliones some authors prefer to use the term carapace interchangeably with the term cephalothorax, which is incorrect usage, because carapace refers only to the dorsal part of the exoskeleton of the cephalothorax.

An alternative term for the carapace of arachnids and their relatives, which avoids confusion with crustaceans, is prosomal dorsal shield.

Turtles and tortoises

The scutes of a turtle's carapace

The carapace is the dorsal, convex part of the shell structure of a turtle, consisting primarily of the animal's broad ribcage. The spine and ribs are fused to bony plates beneath the skin which interlock to form a hard shell. Exterior to the skin the shell is covered by scutes, horny plates which protect the shell from scrapes and bruises.

Turtles can survive surprisingly severe injuries to the carapace, and even deep cracks or missing portions can fill in with bone and heal. The softshell turtles, pig-nose turtle and leatherback sea turtle lack scutes and the bony carapace is covered only by skin.

The carapaces of many species of turtles are brightly colored and patterned and allow individuals to identify others of their species at a distance. The carapaces expand and grow outward like growth rings on a tree as the turtle or tortoise matures. The consistency of the carapace resembles hard keratin rather than bone. The plastron makes up the lower half of a turtle's shell.

References


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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Simple English

A carapace is a dorsal section of an exoskeleton or shell in a number of animal groups.


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