A cDNA encoding a chitinase of Pheadon cochleariae was isolated from a larval gut library. The cDNA encodes a preenzyme with a putative 20 amino-acid signal peptide and a 385 amino-acid mature enzyme of calculated mass of 42.7 kDa. Amino-acid alignment shows 24-33% identity to other insect and crustacea chitinases. The sequence lacks C-terminus domains but active site residues are conserved. Northern analysis localizes the mRNA to guts of feeding larvae. Southern blot analysis, with a complete cDNA probe, suggests that the P. cochleariae genome may contain several chitinase genes. Activity gels show that two groups of chitinases are expressed in the insect. One group comprises chitinases of 30-40 kDa that are active at pH 5.0 and detected in guts of feeding larvae and adults, as well as in pre-pupae and pupae. The other group comprises chitinases of 40-70 kDa that are more active at pH 7.0 and are mainly expressed in pre-pupae and pupae. The biological significance of both groups of chitinases is discussed.