An arthropod is an invertebrate animal having an exoskeleton (external skeleton), a segmented body, and jointed appendages. Arthropods are members of the Phylum Arthropoda (from Greek ἄρθρον arthron, "joint", and ποδός podos "foot", which together mean "jointed feet"), and include the insects, arachnids, crustaceans, and others. Arthropods are characterized by their jointed limbs and cuticles, which are mainly made of α-chitin; the cuticles of crustaceans are also biomineralized with calcium carbonate. The rigid cuticle inhibits growth, so arthropods replace it periodically by molting. The arthropod body plan consists of repeated segments, each with a pair of appendages. It is so versatile that they have been compared to Swiss Army knives, and it has enabled them to become the most species-rich members of all ecological guilds in most environments. They have over a million described species, making up more than 80% of all described living species, and are one of only two animal groups that are really successful in dry environments – the other being the amniotes. They range in size from microscopic plankton up to forms a few meters long.
Arthropods' primary internal cavity is a hemocoel, which accommodates their internal organs and through which their blood circulates; they have open circulatory systems. Like their exteriors, the internal organs of arthropods are generally built of repeated segments. Their nervous system is "ladder-like", with paired ventral nerve cords running through all segments and forming paired ganglia in each segment. Their heads are formed by fusion of varying numbers of segments, and their brains are formed by fusion of the ganglia of these segments and encircle the esophagus. The respiratory and excretory systems of arthropods vary, depending as much on their environment as on the subphylum to which they belong.
One estimate indicates that arthropods have 1,170,000 described species, and account for over 80% of all known living animal species. Another study estimates that there are between 5 to 10 million extant arthropod species, both described and yet to be described.[