Amphibian, Bird & Mammal Respiratory Systems

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  • 0:00 Respiration
  • 0:55 Amphibians
  • 1:50 Birds
  • 2:45 Mammals
  • 3:30 Humans
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

While something as basic as breathing may sound universal, the fact is that amphibians, birds, and mammals all do it differently. In fact, even humans can't always control their breathing.


Breathe in, now breathe out. What you have just very consciously done is the act of respiration, the process by which animals introduce oxygen into their bodies and remove waste gases. Oxygen is absolutely central for life, and while we can last weeks without food or days without water, we all tend to croak after just a few minutes without air.

Hmmm, funny I should use that word 'croak'. After all, it's a central act to the respiration of many amphibians. If that wasn't enough, many birds couldn't fly if they couldn't breathe, as the very act of drawing a breath allows them to take off. As mammals, we have a constant pumping action from the diaphragm that makes sure our lungs stay soaked in oxygen. Over the next few minutes, we'll learn more - just don't hold your breath.


Amphibians are those animals that are equally at home on land or underwater, such as frogs, toads, and salamanders. In fact, many amphibians start off their lives in the water and transform into land creatures. Still, some of them don't make the full transition. For small amphibians, it is possible to breathe much like they did in their juvenile states. For frogs, that means through their skin. Amphibians have very thin skin and blood vessels flow very near to the surface. In fact, this allows them to absorb a large amount of oxygen directly from the air. This is most effective when a frog is wet, as the water makes it easier to absorb oxygen.

Still, what about the croaking? That is a frog breathing through its mouth. The same tissues line the frog's mouth. When a frog breathes, it creates the croaking sound from the air being expelled. One place little air ends up is the lungs; an amphibian simply doesn't have the lung capacity to support itself from that alone.


While amphibians may not have the advanced lungs of a human, don't start strutting around just yet. It turns out that the most advanced lungs actually belong to birds. Take another breath, then breathe out. Unless you were breathing from a scuba mask and out into the atmosphere, some of the same air made it back into your lungs.

A bird doesn't have that problem. It has a number of sacs that hold air, meaning that when a bird breathes in, the air sacs all fill. Some of this air also goes to the hollow spaces in the bones to help the bird maintain flight. Meanwhile, the air flows in one side of the lungs then out the other. This means that there is always fresh oxygen working through the lungs. As a result, the muscles of a bird always have a supply of oxygen. In other words, birds don't lose their breath during a hard workout.


The breathing of mammals should be pretty familiar. After all, you're a mammal! In mammals, air is brought into the lungs by the act of breathing in, where the muscles around the lungs relax, allowing air to flow in. During the act of breathing out, the muscles all tighten, forcing the air out of the lungs and of the body.

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