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I have been imagining/designing a reptile-like animal that breathes tidally, but possesses a syrinx for complex vocalization. Is this biomechanically possible, or is unidirectional breathing a requirement to make the syrinx work?

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The syrinxes of the birds are located at or near the place where the trachea divides into the two bronchies. The movement of the air at that place is is no way different in birds and mammals. The famous unidirectional air flow of birds happens beyond that point, in the lungs.

I originally wrote syringes, using the classical language plural; but Wikipedia uses the plain English plural syrinxes.

The point being that the air movement through the syrinx is bidirectional.

Technical explanation:

  • Birds breathe in and breathe out just like we mammals do.

  • But! They have a special anatomy of the air ducts through the lungs, so that when they breathe in the air goes straight into the air sacs located in the body beyond the lungs, and from there is goes back into the lungs over the respiratory surfaces when they breathe out.

  • The effect is that the flow of the air over the respiratory surfaces of their lungs is unidirectional, so that their lungs always contain fresh air.

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    $\begingroup$ Ok thanks! I think I actually misunderstood how the unidirectional breathing worked, your earlier comment led me to find this article which explained it. $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Commented Jun 20 at 19:34

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