Influence of Structural Principles on the Mechanics of a Biological Fiber-Based Composite Material with Hierarchical Organization: The Exoskeleton of the Lobster Homarus americanus



The cuticle of the lobster Homarus americanus is a nanocomposite, such as most structural biological materials. It consists of a matrix of chitin-protein fibers associated with various amounts of crystalline and amorphous calcium carbonate in the rigid parts of the body, and is organized hierarchically at all length scales. One prominent design principle found in the hierarchical structure of such biological fibrous composite materials is the twisted plywood structure. In the lobster cuticle, it is formed by superimposing and gradually rotating planes of parallel aligned chitin-protein fibers. To adjust the mechanical properties to the requirements on the macroscopic level, the spatial arrangement and the grade of mineralization of the fibers can be modified. A second design principle of lobster cuticle is its honeycomb-like structure, generated by the well-developed pore canal system, whose twisted ribbon-shaped canals penetrate the cuticle perpendicular to its surface. Due to the hierarchical structure, the mechanical properties of the lobster cuticle have to be investigated at different length scales, which is essential for the understanding of the structure–mechanical function relations of mineralized tissues (e.g., potentially also bone and teeth). In order to investigate the influence of the structural principles on the mechanical properties on the macroscopic scale miniaturized tensile, compression, and shear tests were carried out to obtain integral mechanical data. Characterization of the microstructure included scanning electron microscopy (SEM) combined with energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) measurements.