Lymph hearts

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Lymph hearts are organs found in some animals which pump lymph. Lymph hearts are found in lungfishes, all amphibians, reptiles and flightless birds. They function as small pumps to pump lymph that has leaked out of the circulatory system back into the circulatory system.

Lymphatic system of frog[edit]

The lymphatic system of a frog consists of lymph, lymph vessels, lymph heart, lymph spaces and spleen. Some mast cells can also be found in the lymphatics of the tongue of some of the frog species.

The lymphatics and the lymph[edit]

As lymph is a filtrate of blood, it closely resembles the plasma in its water content. Lymph also contains a small amount of metabolic waste and a much smaller amount of protein than that of blood. Lymph vessels carry the lymph and, in the frog, open into the four lymph hearts. These lymph hearts are located on the dorsal side of frog's body. The front pair is situated below the shoulder blades. The posterior pair is on either side of a long, rod-like bone called a urostyle, formed by the fusion of the last few vertebrae. The anterior pair opens into the subclavian vein and the posterior pair into the femoral vein. The pair near the third vertebra pumps lymph into the jugular vein. The other pair at the end of the vertebral column pump lymph into the iliac vein in the legs.

Mast cells in the lymphatics of the tongue[edit]

Rana catesbiana and Rana nigromaculata have mast cells in the lymphatics of the tongue. These are round and in the monocellular layer of the lymphatic walls either in close adhesion or in contact with the cytoplasmic process.

Mechanism of the lymph hearts[edit]

The lymph hearts rhythmically and slowly pump to drive the lymph into the veins. It is possible to see the lymph hearts beat by looking on the dorsal surface on either side of the urostyle. In the toad the normal lymph heart rate is about 50 beats per minute. Thus the lymph emerging out of blood ultimately merges into the blood. It returns the proteins back to blood.

Sizes of the lymph heart and the rate at which they pump[edit]

These hearts vary in size from microscopic in lungfish to an estimated 20-liter capacity in some of the largest dinosaurs. In frogs and turtles they pump at rates higher than the blood heart and the volumes pumped are quite remarkable.[1] In toads and frogs, this volume can amount to about 1/50 the output of blood from the heart. In amphibians, lymph hearts lie at vein junctions. Frogs and salamanders have 10 to 20 lymph hearts, while caecilians have more than 100. Conversely, reptiles have single pair of lymph hearts in the pelvic area. In flightless (ratite) birds, the lymph heart function is less clear and the two almond-sized hearts located near the spinal column close to the hip joint are thought[by whom?] to be involved in inflating and deflating the phallus with lymph, which is of a significant size in both sexes of emus and ostriches.


  1. ^ Martin, Feder (15 Oct 1992). Environmental Physiology of the Amphibians. University of Chicago Press. p. 115. Retrieved 6 January 2015.

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