Intra-chain thiol ester bonds are present in a limited number of proteins. The thiol ester class of proteins includes vertebrate alpha 2-macroglobulin and the complement proteins C3 and C4. We report here the first instance of a thiol ester protein from an invertebrate, the alpha 2-macroglobulin proteinase-inhibitor homologue present in the plasma of the American horseshoe crab Limulus polyphemus. Our evidence is of three kinds: (1) the proteinase-binding activity of Limulus alpha 2-macroglobulin is inactivated by the low-molecular-mass primary amine methylamine; (2) the native protein is subject to autolytic fragmentation during mild thermal denaturation, yielding fragments of approx. 125 kDa and 55 kDa, whereas the methylamine-treated protein is stable under these conditions of thermal treatment; (3) new thiol groups are generated rapidly during reaction of the protein with trypsin. The demonstration of the thiol ester bond in a protein from an ancient invertebrate provides evolutionary evidence for the importance of this bond in the function of plasma forms of the alpha 2-macroglobulin-like proteinase inhibitors.