Hemocyanins are found only in the Mollusca and Arthropoda: the earliest discoveries of hemocyanins were in the snail Helix pomatia (a mollusc) and in the horseshoe crab (an arthropod). They were subsequently found to be common among crustaceans and are utilized by some land arthropods such as the tarantula Eurypelma californicum, the emperor scorpion, and the centipede Scutigera coleoptrata. Also, larval storage proteins in many insects appear to be derived from hemocyanins.
Phenoloxidase are copper containing tyrosinases. These proteins are involved in the process of sclerotization of arthropod cuticle, in wound healing, and humoral immune defense. Phenoloxidase is synthesized by zymogens and are activated by cleaving a N-terminal peptide.
Hexamerins are storage proteins commonly found in insects. These proteins are synthesized by the larval fat body and are associated with molting cycles or nutritional conditions.
Pseudohemocyanin and cryptocyanins genetic sequences are closely related to hemocyanins in crustaceans. These proteins have a similar structure and function, but lack the copper binding sites.
The evolutionary changes within the phylogeny of the hemocyanin superfamily are closely related to the emergence of these different proteins in various species. The understanding of proteins within this superfamily would not be well understood without the extensive studies of hemocyanin in arthropods.
Although the respiratory function of hemocyanin is similar to that of hemoglobin, there are a significant number of differences in its molecular structure and mechanism. Whereas hemoglobin carries its iron atoms in porphyrin rings (heme groups), the copper atoms of hemocyanin are bound as prosthetic groups coordinated by histidine residues. The active site of hemocyanin is composed of a pair of copper(I) cations which are directly coordinated to the protein through the driving force of imidazolic rings of six histidine residues. It has been noted that species using hemocyanin for oxygen transportation include crustaceans living in cold environments with low oxygen pressure. Under these circumstances hemoglobin oxygen transportation is less efficient than hemocyanin oxygen transportation. Nevertheless, there are also terrestrial arthropods using hemocyanin, notably spiders and scorpions, that live in warm climates. The molecule is conformationally stable and fully functioning at temperatures up to 90 degrees C.