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Animals With Lungs and Gills (& One Superb Surprise)

fish floating in the shallow water

Animals With Lungs and Gills (& One Superb Surprise)

Welcome to the wonders of the animal kingdom, a world where skin changes color like a kaleidoscope, sounds are mimicked to perfection, body parts regenerate, and electricity is generated at will.

Amazing, isn’t it? But the awe doesn’t end there.

Today, we’re pushing boundaries and delving into a facet of the animal world that is truly mind-boggling. Get ready to uncover the secrets of creatures that defy the norm and exhibit an extraordinary adaptation – get ready to meet animals that have both lungs and gills.

Animals With Lungs and Gills


frog in the water

The lives of frogs present an amazing story of dual-respiratory animals. They begin their lives fully submerged in the aquatic world, taking on the form of a tadpole.

In this life stage, tadpoles are completely dependent on gills. This means that they rely on this feathery organ to extract oxygen from the water.

But then, something amazing happens – a complete makeover called metamorphosis. Tadpoles start to develop lungs (the ability to draw breath from the air) and get ready for life outside the water.

Yet, the transition from water to land doesn’t make the frog wholly terrestrial. Adult frogs still retain a remarkable ability to breathe through their skin, especially when underwater.


close up photo of a lungfish
Credit: Eden, Janine and Jim, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

The lungfish is a one-of-a-kind survivor that has unlocked the secrets of breathing both in water and on land. These aquatic creatures are few and far between, with only a handful of species known to us. Yet they hold an irresistible charm as ‘living fossils’, offering us a peek into how life might have moved from water to land millions of years ago.

When the rain pours and their watery homes are full, lungfish make good use of their gills, breathing underwater just as other fish do. But when the dry season strikes, turning the water into a parched landscape, lungfish showcase their remarkable adaptation. They burrow deep into the mud, creating an earthy cocoon.

In these snug burrows, their lungs come into play. Switching from their gills, they begin to inhale and exhale air. They sit out the dry season, breathing in the stale air of their burrow, waiting for the return of the rains. In this way, the lungfish dances between two worlds – the aquatic and the terrestrial, but also between two organs, the lungs, and the gills.

Related Reading: What Animals Live on Both Land and Water?


black salamander walking on the rock

Salamanders, similar to frogs, offer another intriguing example of amphibious creatures that undergo a phase of development encompassing both lungs and gills. As larvae, salamanders possess external gills, appearing as tufts located on the sides of their heads.

But, as they mature, they lose these external gills, develop lungs, and become terrestrial animals. Interestingly, not all salamanders follow this typical developmental trajectory.

Some species, such as the endearing axolotl, are ‘neotenic,’ which means they reach adulthood without undergoing complete changes in their appearance or losing their gills. Axolotls continue to be aquatic creatures, retaining their gills even as they develop lungs.


Mudskipper the land

Mudskippers are a fantastic example of how some creatures refuse to be boxed into categories. Yes, they’re fish, and yes, they have gills. But unlike most fish, mudskippers have carved out a life for themselves above water, and it’s all thanks to their special chamber called the “gill chamber.”

Hidden behind their gill covers, these chambers are a mudskipper’s secret weapon. They hang onto water even when the mudskipper is on land. It’s not quite a lung, but it does a similar job. It lets them suck oxygen right out of the air, much like we do when we breathe.

This remarkable adaptation allows mudskippers to spend significant amounts of time out of the water, hopping around muddy riverbanks and mangroves. Their lifestyle represents a unique blend of aquatic and terrestrial respiration, setting them apart as exceptional within the realm of fish.

Fitzroy River Turtles

Fitzroy River Turtle in the water
Credit: Bernard DUPONT, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

The last member on our list is not exactly an animal with both lungs and gills, but it’s something even more fascinating. Namely, Fitzroy River turtles can breathe through their cloaca – an orifice used by both genders for mating and excretion.

This form of respiration is often referred to as “cloacal respiration” and allows oxygen in the water to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

This adaptation enables the animal to extract almost 70% of its oxygen demand directly from the water via its cloaca. As a result, the Fitzroy River turtle has the ability to remain submerged for a striking period of up to 21 days.


Do Any Mammals Have Gills?

No, mammals do not have gills. All mammals, even those that live in water like whales, dolphins, and seals, breathe air using their lungs. They must surface at intervals to inhale fresh oxygen.

Are There Any Land Animals That Have Gills?

Yes, there are land animals that have gills, specifically certain species of crabs such as the coconut crab and hermit crab. These land crabs have adapted gills that allow them to breathe air, provided these gills stay moist. Despite having gills, these crabs cannot breathe underwater and can actually drown if submerged.

Which Aquatic Animals Breathe Through Lungs?

Several aquatic or semi-aquatic animals utilize lungs to breathe. This includes all mammals like whales, dolphins, seals, and manatees, which need to surface regularly to take in oxygen. Certain species of turtles and snakes, which also need to surface for air, breathe this way as well.

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