The cuticle of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans forms the barrier between the animal and its environment. In addition to being a protective layer, it is an exoskeleton which is important in maintaining and defining the normal shape of the nematode. The cuticle is an extracellular matrix consisting predominantly of small collagen-like proteins that are extensively crosslinked. Although it also contains other protein and non-protein compounds that undoubtedly play a significant part in its function, the specific role of collagen in cuticle structure and morphology is considered here. The C. elegans genome contains between 50 and 150 collagen genes, most of which are believed to encode cuticular collagens. Mutations that result in cuticular defects and grossly altered body form have been identified in more than 40 genes. Six of these genes are now known to encode cuticular collagens, a finding that confirms the importance of this group of structural proteins to the formation of the cuticle and the role of the cuticle as an exoskeleton in shaping the worm. It is likely that many more of the genes identified by mutations giving altered body form, will be collagen genes. Mutations in the cuticular collagen genes provide a powerful tool for investigating the mechanisms by which this group of proteins interact to form the nematode cuticle.