Pieces of shell from 19 species of molluscs exhibiting various microstructures were tested for tensile strength, modulus of elasticity in bending and modulus of rupture. In tensile strength most shells with cross-foliated, foliated, homogeneous and crossed-lamellar structures did not exceed 60 MNm 2 but prismatic and nacreous structures often exceeded this value. Nacreous structure was generally superior to all others in modulus of rupture tests; that of Turbo being about equal to bone. Values of modulus of elasticity were more uniform between structures. There is a general relation between mechanical properties, microstructure and the life style of each animal. Nacreous structure, which is very strong but not widely used, apparently evolved earlier than the less strong but widely used crossed-lamellar structure.