[en] Free vesicle-like bodies (VLBs) present in the ecdysial space of cuticle regions undergoing degradation during preecdysis of the Atlantic shore crab Carcinus maenas have been interpreted either as infectious organisms or as secretion structures associated with degradation of the old cuticle. Ultrastructural, cytochemical, and immunocytological investigations were performed to test these hypotheses and to see whether VLBs are peculiar to this crab species. Similar VLBs were systematically found in two other preecdysial crabs, Cancer pagurus and Macropipus puber. In Car, maenas, they originate during early premolt inside Golgi buddings and are often gathered into large vacuoles in epidermal cells. The histochemical azo-dye technique and a cerium-based cytochemical method revealed acid phosphatase activity in both the ecdysial space and the VLBs, while Feulgen's method and immunocytological labeling always failed to reveal any DNA or RNA in either the ecdysial space or the VLBs. We conclude that VLBs are not infectious organisms but "extracellular" cuticle-degrading organelles of lysosomal origin and propose to coin them "exolysosomes."