Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology

Dynamics of tracheal compression in the horned passalus beetle

James S. Waters, Wah-Keat Lee, Mark W. Westneat, John J. Socha


Rhythmic patterns of compression and reinflation of the thin-walled hollow tubes of the insect tracheal system have been observed in a number of insects. These movements may be important for facilitating the transport and exchange of respiratory gases, but observing and characterizing the dynamics of internal physiological systems within live insects can be challenging due to their size and exoskeleton. Using synchrotron X-ray phase-contrast imaging, we observed dynamical behavior in the tracheal system of the beetle, Odontotaenius disjunctus. Similar to observations of tracheal compression in other insects, specific regions of tracheae in the thorax of O. disjunctus exhibit rhythmic collapse and reinflation. During tracheal compression, the opposing sides of a tracheal tube converge, causing the effective diameter of the tube to decrease. However, a unique characteristic of tracheal compression in this species is that certain tracheae collapse and reinflate with a wavelike motion. In the dorsal cephalic tracheae, compression begins anteriorly and continues until the tube is uniformly flattened; reinflation takes place in the reverse direction, starting with the posterior end of the tube and continuing until the tube is fully reinflated. We report the detailed kinematics of this pattern as well as additional observations that show tracheal compression coordinated with spiracle opening and closing. These findings suggest that tracheal compression may function to drive flow within the body, facilitating internal mixing of respiratory gases and ventilation of distal regions of the tracheal system.

  • bessbug
  • biomechanics
  • convection
  • insect
  • tracheae
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