An electron microscopic study has been made of the three respiratory organs of climbing perch. The gill structure is similar to that of the other telcosts but the thickness of the water/blood barrier is much greater, being as great as 20 μm in some specimens. The increased thickness is due to a multilayered epithelium which is thinner (3.5–7 μm) over the marginal channel of the secondary lamellae. The other two main layers, basement membrane and pillar cell flange, are relatively thin (about 1 μm).
The pillar cells have a typical structure, but in certain regions they are contiguous with one another and line well-defined blood channels. Some of the columns of basement membrane material in such regions may be common to adjacent pillar cells.
The air-breathing organs are (a) the lining of the suprabranchial chambers, and (b) the labyrinthine plates attached to the dorsal region of branchial arches. Electron microscopy showed that their structure is well adapted for gas exchange, the air/blood barriers being only 0.12–0.3 μm, comprising an epithelial layer, basement membrane, and thin capillary endothelium. The many parallel blood channels of the respiratory islets of both organs are separated by pillar-like structures which differ from the pillar cells of the secondary lamellae. Thus the hypothesis that the air-breathing organs represent modified gills is not supported by this study.
The fine structure of the non-respiratory region of the air-breathing organs is similar to that of the skin, and includes chemoreceptor-like cells. Evidence concerning the possible homology of pillar cells with plain muscle cells is discussed.