hard exoskeleton of marine mollusks such as snails, bivalves, and chitons that serves to protect and support their bodies. It is composed largely of calcium carbonate, which is formed from substances secreted by the mantle, a skinlike tissue in the mollusk's body wall. Seashells are usually made up of several layers of distinct microstructures that have differing mechanical properties. The shell layers are secreted by different parts of the mantle, although actual incremental growth can take place only at the shell margin. One of the most distinctive microstructures is nacre, or mother-of-pearl, which occurs as an inner layer in the shells of some gastropods and bivalves and in those of the cephalopods Nautilus and Spirula.
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