Tracheal Respiration in Insects Visualized with Synchrotron X-ray Imaging

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Science  24 Jan 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5606, pp. 558-560
DOI: 10.1126/science.1078008

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Insects are known to exchange respiratory gases in their system of tracheal tubes by using either diffusion or changes in internal pressure that are produced through body motion or hemolymph circulation. However, the inability to see inside living insects has limited our understanding of their respiration mechanisms. We used a synchrotron beam to obtain x-ray videos of living, breathing insects. Beetles, crickets, and ants exhibited rapid cycles of tracheal compression and expansion in the head and thorax. Body movements and hemolymph circulation cannot account for these cycles; therefore, our observations demonstrate a previously unknown mechanism of respiration in insects analogous to the inflation and deflation of vertebrate lungs.

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