Animals that breathe through skin

One of the three types of respiration that many animals on the planet have is skin respiration . This occurs through the skin and occurs mainly in insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles such as turtles and sea snakes and in some mammals, the latter being the rarest case.

What is cutaneous or skin respiration

A type of respiration that is carried out through the skin in certain groups of animals is called cutaneous respiration . In these animals, the skin is quite special, because to allow oxygen and carbon dioxide to diffuse through it, it must always be kept minimally moist . Another characteristic is that your skin is highly vascular in its inner layers to facilitate this process.

Cutaneous respiration is especially important in amphibians and softshell turtles, which have mucous glands that help them retain skin moisture. Some amphibians have folds in their skin that help them increase their respiratory rate. Amphibians are animals that have up to three forms of respiration, depending on their vital stage and level of activity. These are pulmonary respiration, respiration through a lining of the mouth (mostly in a state of rest) and skin respiration (it takes in 90% of the oxygen they need).

Most animals that use this type of respiration also have lungs or gills that give them an alternate surface to allow respiratory exchange and that complements respiration through the skin. In fact, only salamanders survive exclusively on skin respiration.

Skin-breathing annelids

We start this list of skin-breathing animals by talking about annelids, which are invertebrate animals:


This animal can be found in tunnels in the ground, which it performs to feed. By doing this, organic matter enters your digestive system and is subsequently eliminated in the form of excrement. Through this process it softens, enriches and aerates the soil.

Since it lacks specialized respiratory organs, its respiration takes place through the skin.


This is an animal with an elongated body and with suction cups at both ends. Leeches feed on the blood they suck from their prey. They breathe through the skin, although there are species that have gills, which are similar to lateral branches on their body. In other families, there is a red pigment called hemoglobin and it carries up to half of the absorbed oxygen.

Korean or nereis earthworm

It is a marine worm with an elongated, semi-cylindrical body and ring-shaped segments. It has four eyes and strong jaws to capture its prey. As it lacks specialized respiratory organs, it breathes through its body surface, mainly through thin, flat appendages that are located on the sides of its body.

Amphibians with skin respiration

Here are some examples of amphibian animals that breathe through skin :


It is an animal very similar to the salamander and is an endemic species of the region of the valley of Mexico, although some species can be found in North America. It has the appearance of a lizard, with a smooth, glandular and moist skin of different colors. They can breathe through the lungs, gills or the skin, depending on their vital stage.


They are anuran amphibians that undergo metamorphosis from birth to adulthood. Their type of breathing varies according to their vital stage and time of year. Thus, in their aquatic tadpole stage, their respiration is through gills and through the skin, while in adults they use lung and skin respiration according to the time of year. For example, in winter they use the skin more (they require less oxygen) and in summer they use the lung mainly (they require more oxygen).


Toads are also anuran amphibians. They are distinguished from frogs by size, leg length, skin roughness, and way of moving. They present the same types of respiration as frogs, being cutaneous in their larval and tadpole stages, and mainly pulmonary in adults (their skin is less moist).


These animals are amphibians of the salamander family, although smaller, with a long, thin body, short legs, and a long, flattened tail. They spend most of their life in water and their respiration is mostly skin.


It is a tailless or very rudimentary worm-shaped amphibian. Some have rudimentary lungs, although their respiration is mainly cutaneous, other species lack lungs.

Among echinoderms with cutaneous respiration we have:

Sea urchin

It is a globe-shaped echinoderm without limbs. There are movable spikes around their entire body that allow them to move and serve as a method of defense. Their respiration is cutaneous, although they also present gill respiration.

Sea cucumber

It is an elongated, soft-bodied echinoderm without limbs. Its size ranges from a few millimeters to several meters. Some species have tubes near their anus that allow them to breathe, although their respiration is mainly cutaneous.


It is an echinoderm similar to starfish, with a rounded and flattened central structure from which its long and thin arms start, which serve to move around. It has respiratory organs, although its respiration is mainly cutaneous.

Reptiles and mammals with skin respiration

Although reptiles do not have mainly skin respiration, some species can use it under certain conditions. Some of them are:

  • Sea snake.
  • Musky turtle.
  • Green lizard.
  • Japanese tortoise.

This also occurs in mammals . Some can deliver a small percentage of oxygen through the skin. This is the case of the brown bat , which obtains around 15% of the oxygen by this method and removes 5% of the carbon dioxide.

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