Mechanisms of tracheal filling in insects

Thomas D. Förster, H. Arthur Woods

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Insects exchange respiratory gases primarily using tracheal systems that are filled with gas. However, in different developmental and environmental circumstances, liquid can occupy the tracheal system, which can significantly impair its respiratory function. Insects therefore use a suite of mechanisms for tracheal filling, which is the process of replacing tracheal liquids with gas. We review these mechanisms for liquid removal and gas filling. By integrating recent molecular work with older physiological literature, we show that liquid removal likely involves active ion transport in the whole tracheal system. Gas filling reveals fascinating interactions between geometry, surface chemistry of the tracheal walls, the tracheal liquid, and dissolved gases. The temporal proximity to moulting allows for potentially complex interdependencies between gas filling, moult-associated hormone signaling, and cuticle sclerotization. We propose a mechanistic model for tracheal filling. However, because the composition of the liquid is unknown, it remains hypothetical. Biological Reviews

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2013


  • Cavitation
  • Cuticle sclerotization
  • Gas exchange
  • Liquid absorption
  • Moulting
  • Solute clearance
  • Tracheal system


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