Every living being, both animal and plant, must have a respiratory system that allows it to stay alive, since oxygenation of the body is one of the most elementary processes of life. Like any organism, insects also have one of these systems, although it is completely different from those of vertebrates, such as humans.
In this Green Ecologist article we will see where and how insects breathe, both as adults and in their larval stages.
Insects don't have lungs like mammals, nor gills like fish, but they have a respiratory system made up of tracheae, with which they carry oxygen directly to the tissues. The tracheal breathing It is based on a system formed by a complex network of thin tubes, called tracheae, which run through the entire organism of the insect.
Spiracles They are a kind of pores that protrude to the outside of the thicker tracheae. These spiracles are located at the abdominal and thorax level and are protected by small hairs that prevent small particles or microorganisms from entering the tracheas. At the entrance of the spiracles there are special rings that open and close allowing air to enter. The most superficial tracheae are those that thicken, while the innermost tracheae become thinner and thinner until they form tracheae. Depending on the species of insect, you can use some blowholes to inhale and others to exhale, or both for both.
For example, the skin respiration, where animals use their integument to carry out the gas exchange process. For this type of breathing to occur, the skin must be thin and moist. Annelids such as worms or leeches, amphibians such as frogs, toads or salamanders, and echinoderms such as sea urchins or sea stars have cutaneous respiration.
Another type is the gill respiration, in which the process occurs in the gills, which can be external or internal. They consist of membranes with which marine animals consume oxygen from the water, although previously the water enters through the mouth and is absorbed by the blood vessels located in the gills. Gill respiration is found in most fish.
The last type of breath is lung respiration, in which the oxygen taken up by the nose passes through the pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi and bronchioles, until it reaches the alveolar sacs, where the oxygen is already diffused to the surrounding capillaries.
As we have already indicated, insects have tracheal respiration, which consists of a system of tubes directly connected to the cells of the body through which the captured oxygen reaches them. A characteristic of insects is that they have a open circulatory system in which the blood circulates very slowly, providing a large amount of oxygen to the body. The process of respiration of insects explained in a simple way is this:
Oxygen is an abundant gas in air (its levels reach 200,000 parts per million), but not in water (its levels reach 15 ppm). This represents a great inconvenience for respiration, however many insects inhabit water during some stages of their life. Most insects can survive long periods underwater by closing their spiracles and slowing down their metabolism, but some have adaptations.
Many aquatic insects possess tracheal gills, which are small structures in the trachea that allow them to extract more oxygen from the water than they normally obtain. These gills are normally found on the abdomen, with a few exceptions, such as some plecoptera (anal gills) or dragonfly larvae (rectal gills).
Some aquatic insects use respiratory pigments to extract oxygen, such as the larvae of non-biting mosquitoes (chironomids), which possess hemoglobin, such as those that can be seen in the image below.
Others maintain a connection with the outside air through a structure that resembles a diving tube. Some mosquito larvae take advantage of the oxygen that some aquatic plants store in their vacuoles. There are even some beetles that carry a temporary air bubble with them.
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