do reptiles breathe through their skin

Do Reptiles Breathe Through their Skin?

Reptiles and amphibians are both considered to be ‘cold-blooded’ which means they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. This also means they cannot regulate their own respiration, unlike humans and other mammals. This begs the question, do reptiles breathe through their skin?

The answer is both yes and no. Reptiles can and do take in oxygen through their skin, in a process called cutaneous respiration. However, the primary source of oxygen for reptiles comes from their lungs, just like us. To better understand the process of cutaneous respiration, a look at the physiology of reptiles is needed.

How Does Cutaneous Respiration Work?

Reptiles have a thicker layer of skin than most mammals, allowing them to have greater control of oxygen exchange with their environment. Reptiles also have tiny blood vessels located directly under the skin. These blood vessels allow for oxygen to be absorbed when the reptile is in contact with a moist environment. This process of oxygen absorption occurs when oxygen molecules in the environment are dissolved in the water and transferred directly through the skin. This process is more effective than the oxygen exchange that occurs through the lungs of mammals.

Do Reptiles Rely Primarily on Cutaneous Respiration?

No. According to research, reptiles rely primarily on their lungs to take in oxygen. The process of cutaneous respiration is not efficient enough to provide the necessary oxygen levels that reptiles need. For example, a reptile needs to contact a moist surface every few minutes to receive their oxygen levels. This is not a feasible way for reptiles to be able to survive in their environment.

What Is the Role of Cutaneous Respiration?

The primary role of cutaneous respiration is to supplement the oxygen the reptile receives from their lungs and to increase their oxygen levels in certain environments. For example, due to a lack of oxygen in the water, certain aquatic reptiles are able to use cutaneous respiration to increase their oxygen levels. This ensures they have the necessary levels to survive.


In conclusion, reptiles do not rely primarily on cutaneous respiration to receive oxygen. The process of cutaneous respiration plays a supplementary role and helps reptiles to get the necessary oxygen levels in certain environments. Although it is an intriguing factor in reptiles, it is not their main source of oxygen.

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