Spiracle (vertebrates)

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Spiracle of a bluespotted ribbontail ray, Taeniura lymma

Spiracles (/ˈspɪrəkəl, ˈsp-/[1][2]) are openings on the surface of some animals, which usually lead to respiratory systems.

Spiracle of a shark (bighead spurdog, Squalus bucephalus)

The spiracle is a small hole behind each eye that opens to the mouth in some fish. In the primitive jawless fish, the first gill opening immediately behind the mouth is essentially similar to the other gill opening. With the evolution of the jaw in the early jawed vertebrates, this gill slit was caught between the forward gill-rod (now functioning as the jaw) and the next rod, the hyomandibular bone, supporting the jaw hinge and anchoring the jaw to the skull proper. The gill opening was closed off from below, the remaining opening was small and hole-like, and is termed a spiracle.

The spiracle is still found in all cartilaginous fish except requiem sharks, hammerhead sharks, and chimaeras, and is found in some primitive bony fishes (coelacanth, sturgeon, paddlefish and bichirs). It is also seen as an otic notch in the skull of the extinct labyrinthodonts, and is thought to be associated with the ear opening in amniotes and frogs.[3][4]

Blowholes in cetaceans are also sometimes referred to as spiracles.


  1. ^ Entry "spiracle" in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  2. ^ OED 2nd edition, 1989 as /ˈspaɪərək(ə)l/
  3. ^ Romer, A.S. (1949): The Vertebrate Body. W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia. (2nd ed. 1955; 3rd ed. 1962; 4th ed. 1970)
  4. ^ Graham, Jeffrey B.; Wegner, Nicholas C.; Miller, Lauren A.; Jew, Corey J.; Chin Lai, N.; Berquist, Rachel M.; Frank, Lawrence R.; Long, John A. (2014). "Spiracular air breathing in polypterid fishes and its implications for aerial respiration in stem tetrapods". Nature Communications. 5: 3022. doi:10.1038/ncomms4022. PMID 24451680.