Insect chitinase (CHT) family proteins are encoded by as many as 16 genes depending upon the species of interest. We have classified these proteins in three species into five different groups based on amino acid sequence similarities (Zhu et al., companion paper). The functions of most of the individual proteins of this family during growth and development are largely unknown. To help determine their enzymatic properties and physiological roles, we expressed representative members belonging to this protein family from Drosophila melanogaster (Dm) and Tribolium castaneum (Tc), and characterized their kinetic and carbohydrate-binding properties. Seven proteins, including DmCHT 4, 5, 9 and DmDS47 from Drosophila, and TcCHT5, TcIDGF2 and TcIDGF4 from Tribolium, belonging to groups I, IV or V of the chitinase-like family were expressed in a baculovirus-insect cell line expression system, purified and characterized. Their enzymatic and chitin-binding properties were compared to those of the well-characterized chitinase, MsCHT535, from Manduca sexta (Ms). All of these proteins, except those belonging to group V that are related to imaginal disc growth factors (IDGFs), exhibited chitinolytic activity against the long polymeric substrate, CM-Chitin-RBV, and/or the short oligomeric substrate, MU-(GlcNAc)(3). TcCHT5, DmCHT5 and MsCHT535, which are members of group I chitinases, cleaved both polymeric and oligomeric substrates. Their enzymatic properties, including pH optima, kinetic parameters, and susceptibility to substrate inhibition by chitooligosaccharides, were similar. Two group IV chitinases, DmCHT4 and DmCHT9, also were characterized. DmCHT4 had one optimum pH of 6 towards the polymeric substrate and no detectable chitinolytic activity towards an oligosaccharide substrate. DmCHT9 had high activity from pH 4 to 8 towards the polymeric substrate and exhibited low activity towards the oligosaccharide substrate. The group V proteins, TcIDGF2 and TcIDGF4, contain all of the catalytically critical residues within conserved region II of family 18 chitinases but neither exhibited chitinolytic activity. Another group V protein, DmDS47, which lacks the critical glutamate residue in region II and the C-terminal CBD, also exhibited no chitinolytic activity. However, all three of the group V proteins bound to chitin tightly. A comparison of the amino acid sequences and homology model structures of group V proteins with enzymatically active members of the chitinase family indicated that the presence of additional loops of amino acids within the (betaalpha)(8)-barrel structure of these proteins interferes with productive substrate binding and/or catalysis.