The respiration of Cancer pagurus under normoxic conditions and its respiratory responses to hypoxia are described. Respiration of quiescent crabs is characterized by a rhythmic pattern of ventilation and cardiac activity in which periods of apnoea and bradycardia of approximately 5 min duration alternate with longer periods of active ventilation and cardiac activity. The significance of this rhythmic ventilatory behaviour is discussed and evidence is presented to account for this behaviour in terms of allowing energy savings to be made during periods of inactivity. During a ventilatory pause the PO2 of the post-branchial blood falls from its normal level of 94 ± 5 torr to only 24 ± 3 torr. The blood of Cancer provides a store of oxygen which is used during pausing to maintain aerobic metabolism. Anaerobic metabolism does not appear to contribute significantly to energy production during these periods since no increase in the blood lactate concentration was recorded.
Cancer haemocyanin has a high oxygen affinity (P50 = 5–10 torr) and exhibits a large, positive Bohr shift (Δ log P50/pH = −1.18). However, under normal conditions the pigment has only a minor role in supplying oxygen to the tissues, since over 91% is carried in solution.
Cancer pagurus exhibits quite a high degree of respiratory independence and is able to maintain its rate of oxygen consumption approximately constant over a wide range of ambient oxygen tension, down to a PO2 of 60–80 torr, below which it declines. Similarly there was little change in heart rate during hypoxia until a PO2 of 20–40 torr was reached below which it also declined sharply. Oxygen consumption during hypoxia was maintained primarily as a result of an increase in ventilation volume and oxygen extraction. During hypoxia the PO2 of both the pre- and post-branchial blood declined and resulted in a reduction in the PO2 gradient across the respiratory surface (ΔPO2). Oxygen uptake during hypoxia was facilitated, however, by an increase in the transfer factor (TO2).