How do ants breathe? (BioE80 Spr2015)


Ant Ant

I had never been intrigued so much by the intricacies of insect anatomy until we looked closely at it during class. Fortuitously, during the outdoor exploration session of the lab after assembling the Foldscope, my partner and I were able to capture an ant and view it on a slide. After first being generally stricken with awe at being able to see for the first time so many details of such a relatively small creature, I looked carefully at the different sections of the ant.


Upon reaching the abdomen, I realized that I could not see any organ-like things besides one large dark sac. I could, however, see very thin string-like structures stretching out throughout the abdomen. This made me curious, how do ants complete the essential function of breathing?

Abdomen Abdomen Spiracle and Trachea Abdomen Spiracles and Trachea Spiracles and Trachea

After doing some research, I found out that the string-like structures did indeed have something to do with the breathing. Ants have an interesting respiratory system consisting of spiracles (tiny openings located on the outside of the exoskeleton that allow the transport of oxygen into and carbon dioxide out of ) and trachea (the respiratory ducts throughout the body). The spiracles are all over the ant’s exoskeleton and the tracheal tubes branch out all over the body, facilitating the exchange of gasses as needed.

I found it very enlightening in the realization that there are other ways of breathing apart from the lungs of mammals and gills of fish. I am curious to see the other types of insects and their own respective breathing systems, or would they be the same?

by Joon Kee Park

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