Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ant's Breath

After a recent ant invasion in my home, I started thinking about them more closely. I know that I must have learned this in some biology class eons ago, but I found myself wondering, how do ants breathe? It was hard to imagine the cumbersome paraphenelia of breathing encompassed in such tiny bodies. If you were sensitive enough, could you feel an ant's breath? I fear that if I could, I would never be able to carry out the wholesale destruction that clearing your house of ants requires again.

Well, thanks to David Richman of New Mexico State University, I now know. It would be more succinct to just paste in his answer, but for the purposes of learning a little something myself, I will paraphrase what he said. Ants do not have lungs, nor do they carry oxygen through blood as we do. Instead, they have a system of tubes, which are called tracheae and tracheoles. Through these, oxygen from the atmosphere is carried into their tissues and, as he says, almost to the cellular level. The opening to the outside air are called spiracles. The gas exchange is largely by diffusion (yeah, yeah, future topic). In larger insects, there is a more complex process called ventilation, aided by muscles contracting and expanding along the tracheae, but ants are smaller and get by on a few spiracles. There are usually valves that keep the spiracle open or closed. Ants apparently do have something like blood, but its not used for carrying oxygen. The question is, or the questions are, is it really 'blood', what are it's functions, and what color is it?
But that's all for another day. Thank you, David!

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