Respiratory function of the plastron in the aquatic bug Aphelocheirus aestivalis (Hemiptera, Aphelocheiridae)

J Exp Biol. 2015 Sep;218(Pt 18):2840-6. doi: 10.1242/jeb.125328. Epub 2015 Jul 23.


The river bug Aphelocheirus aestivalis is a 40 mg aquatic insect that, as an adult, relies totally on an incompressible physical gill to exchange respiratory gases with the water. The gill (called a 'plastron') consists of a stationary layer of air held in place on the body surface by millions of tiny hairs that support a permanent air-water interface, so that the insect never has to renew the gas at the water's surface. The volume of air in the plastron is extremely small (0.14 mm(3)), under slightly negative pressure and connected to the gas-filled tracheal system through spiracles on the cuticle. Here, we measure PO2 of the water and within the plastron gas with O2-sensing fibre optics to understand the effectiveness and limitations of the gas exchanger. The difference in PO2 is highest in stagnant water and decreases with increasing convection over the surface. Respiration of bugs in water-filled vials varies between 33 and 296 pmol O2 s(-1), depending on swimming activity. The effective thickness of the boundary layer around the plastron was calculated from respiration rate, PO2 difference and plastron surface area, according to the Fick diffusion equation and verified by direct measurements with the fibre-optic probes. In stagnant water, the boundary layer is approximately 500 μm thick, which nevertheless can satisfy the demands of resting bugs, even if the PO2 of the free water decreases to half that of air saturation. Active bugs require thinner boundary layers (∼ 100 μm), which are achieved by living in moving water or by swimming.

Keywords: Aquatic insect; Metabolic rate; Optode; Oxygen; Respiration; Spiracle; Tracheal system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diffusion
  • Diving / physiology
  • Gills / metabolism
  • Heteroptera / physiology*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Respiration*