Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine

What’s the longest an animal can survive without oxygen?

Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

Who said animals needed oxygen at all!

Asked by: Caroline May, Bristol


Many species of bacteria and protozoa don’t need oxygen at all, and in 2010 researchers also found three new species of microscopic multicellular animals that can survive without oxygen, living in the seabed mud of the Mediterranean Sea.

All vertebrates need at least some oxygen, but the record for holding their breath goes to the endangered desert pupfish Cyprinodon macularius. This 7.6cm fish has evolved to randomly switch its metabolism over to an alternate pathway that doesn’t use oxygen and produces ethanol as a byproduct. They can survive like this for up to five hours at a stretch.


Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.


luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.


Sponsored content