gills

A gill () is a respiratory organ found in many aquatic organisms that extracts dissolved oxygen from water and excretes carbon dioxide. The gills of some species, such as hermit crabs, have adapted to allow respiration on land provided they are kept moist. The microscopic structure of a gill presents a large surface area to the external environment. Many microscopic aquatic animals, and some larger but inactive ones, can absorb adequate oxygen through the entire surface of their bodies, and so can respire adequately without a gill. However, more complex or more active aquatic organisms usually require a gill or gills. Gills usually consist of thin filaments of tissue, branches, or slender, tufted processes that have a highly folded surface to increase surface area. A high surface area is crucial to the gas exchange of aquatic organisms, as water contains only a small fraction of the dissolved oxygen that air does. A cubic meter of air contains about 250 grams of oxygen at STP. The concentration of oxygen in water is lower than air and it diffuses more slowly. In fresh water, the dissolved oxygen content is approximately 8 cm3/L compared to that of air which is 210 cm3/L. Water is 777 times more dense than air and is 100 times more viscous. Oxygen has a diffusion rate in air 10,000 times greater than in water. The use of sac-like lungs to remove oxygen from water would not be efficient enough to sustain life. Rather than using lungs, “[g]asesous exchange takes place across the surface of highly vascularised gills over which a one-way current of water is kept flowing by a specialised pumping mechanism. The density of the water prevents the gills from collapsing and lying on top of each other, which is what happens when a fish is taken out of water.” With the exception of some aquatic insects, the filaments and lamellae (folds) contain blood or coelomic fluid, from which gases are exchanged through the thin walls. The blood carries oxygen to other parts of the body. Carbon dioxide passes from the blood through the thin gill tissue into the water. Gills or gill-like organs, located in different parts of the body, are found in various groups of aquatic animals, including mollusks, crustaceans, insects, fish, and amphibians.