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Spiracle: Wikis


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Indian moon moth (Actias selene) with some of the spiracles identified
Scanning electron micrograph of a cricket spiracle valve

Spiracles are small openings on the surface of some animals that usually lead to respiratory systems.

In elasmobranchs (sharks and rays), a spiracle is found behind each eye, and is often used to pump water through the gills while the animal is at rest (Fouts, 2003).

Spiracles in insects

Insects and some more advanced spiders have spiracles on their exoskeletons to allow air to enter the trachea (Solomon et al., 2002). In insects, the tracheal tubes primarily deliver oxygen directly into the animals' tissues. The spiracles can be opened and closed in an efficient manner to reduce water loss. This is done by contracting closer muscles surrounding the spiracle. In order to open, the muscle relaxes. The closer muscle is controlled by the central nervous system but can also react to localized chemical stimuli. Several aquatic insects have similar or alternative closing methods to prevent water from entering the trachea. In spiders, however, the oxygen diffuses into the hemolymph (Foelix, 1996). A similar diffusion effect also occurs in some insect caterpillars. In these groups the respiration is more reminiscent of lungs. In spiders and other arachnids they have structures called book lungs. During inhalation the abdomen is lowered and during exhalation the abdomen is raised.


  • Solomon, Eldra, Linda Berg, Diana Martin. 2002. Biology. Brooks/Cole.
  • Foelix, Ranier. 1996. Biology of Spiders. Oxford U. Press
  • Chapman, R. F. The Insects. 1998. Cambridge University Press

Simple English

Insects have small holes in their bodies that allow them to breathe. These holes are called spiracles. Air comes in the spiracles and goes to trachea, or tubes. These tubes take the oxygen to other parts of the insect body. Because insects have no lungs, air comes in and goes out of the spiracles passively (by itself). Some insects can open and close the spiracles to keep water out.

Some spiders also have spiracles.

Sharks and rays have a spiracle behind each eye. When the shark is not moving, the spiracle helps the shark to breathe.


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