May 29, 2024

Respiration is one of the 7 characteristics (MRS NERG, if you remember from school) we humans share with every living creature on our planet. In school, you might have learnt that there are 4 main types of respiratory system structures:

Lung Breathing: Mammals, Birds, Reptiles and few Amphibians

Gill Breathing: Fish and Crabs 

Tracheal Breathing: Insects, Arachnids and Annelids 

Skin breathing: Amphibians (Frogs)

However, harnessing and processing oxygen into energy isn’t as simple as taking in oxygen, delivering it to the lungs which then delivers it to the rest of the body via the bloodstream. We are surrounded by a beautiful genius – Nature which has gone through 3.5 billion years of research and development, iterating over problems and improving solutions (evolution). Here are just a small number of amazing and innovative animal breathers…


Meet The Bum Breathers

Birds require a lot of energy to get them into the air and for that they need an efficient way to process oxygen. This is specifically very important for high altitude birds, like vultures, who soar over 300,000 feet where oxygen is very scarce. Birds posses an elegant two breathe system which allows them to extract oxygen very efficiently.

When a bird, let’s say the bald eagle in the above picture, takes a breath, the air travels through its nares (nostrils) down the trachea into its posterior air sacs which are located in the thorax and rump, which is in their butts. When the bald eagle exhales, instead of the air leaving the body , the air goes into its lungs where oxygen is absorbed. When the eagle inhales again, the same breath moves from the lungs to its anterior air sacs. The second exhalation is when the stale air leaved the eagle’s body through its nares.

Every breath a bird takes requires two breathing cycles to complete a single breath, this two-breathe system ensures that fresher air continually reaches the lungs of the birds.


Meet The Organ Tapers

Sloths spend a massive amount of time doing nothing, like me during quarantine, but unlike me they hang upside down from branches for reasons best known to them. If you have ever hung upside down in a jungle gym, you know its quite uncomfortable. Internally, your organs press up against your diaphragm making it hard for you to breathe. Sloths have come up with an easy and simple solution. They tape their organs to their skeletons using fibrous tissues to prevent them fro moving when inverted.

This shows that lazy people and animals… 


Meet The Scuba Divers

Many aquatic insects and other invertebrates are known to carry ai bubbles with them underwater for respiration. Scientists recently discovered a tropical lizard doing the same thing to stay underwater. What was shocking is that insects and other invertebrates are very small and need very less oxygen in comparison to a large lizard in order to breathe and live underwater.

Research has shown that six species of the Caribbean and Latin American anoles, a type of lizard, exhale air to create large, oxygen-filled bubbles that cling to their head. These lizards use these bubbles as rebreathing device which allows these six species of anoles to stay underwater for over 15 minutes. They periodically inflate the bubbles and then draw them back in through their noses which helps them recycle exhaled air and breathing the previously unused oxygen.

This technique could help animals like these lizards rid their lungs of accumulated carbon dioxide, which could escape into the water over the large surface area of the bubble. Additionally, some scientists say that it’s possible that in well oxygenated streams, the bubble acts like a gill which pulls in oxygen via diffusion.


Meet The Single Lung Breathers

In Humans, the left lung is smaller than the right lung to make room to accommodate the heart. Certain species of snakes have given up on two lungs altogether and just survive with one. Their right lung is fully formed where as their left lung is just a small sac. This is because as snakes evolve, their long, thin tubular bodies need longer and thinner organs so the snakes gave up a lung to make space for rest of the organs.


Meet The Animal Who Doesn't Breathe

This wouldn’t be the animal kingdom without an unique, weird creature defying everything that we previously thought. Scientists have discovered the first non breathing creature.

Henneguya salminicola, an ocean dwelling parasite which latch onto other deep sea dwelling fish and is also know as ‘Milky Flesh’ and ‘Tapioca Disease’ does not require aerobic respiration in order to survive — a revelation that may change how we understand life on Earth and beyond. This multicellular organism, which is closely related to the jellyfish known as the Myxozoa, doesn’t breathe and does not have mitochondrial DNA or any sort of respiratory component in its DNA. Scientists have still not figured out how these creatures survive without oxygen which was believed to be one of the main components needed for life.

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