Atelecyclus buries itself by digging backwards into the sand, sometimes until only the antennae protrude above the sand. In this position it is difficult for the animal to maintain an adequate respiratory current through the branchial chambers by pumping water in the normal direction.
Studies of the ventilatory behaviour of Atelecyclus have shown that, when on the surface of the sand, water flows through the branchial chambers as in most other crabs i.e. water enters the chambers at the base of the limbs and the exhalant water leaves anteriorly. This direction of flow is also maintained when the crabs are only partially buried but when more deeply buried, the direction of water flow is reversed by the reversal of the direction of beat of the scaphognathites and water is drawn down the antennal tube and leaves the branchial chambers at the base of the limbs.
Inactive Atelecyclus show a well-defined rhythm of pumping in which regular periods of active pumping alternate with periods during which the scaphognathites stop beating and ventilation of the branchial chambers ceases. The rhythm of ventilation is regular but the duration of the ventilatory pauses (apnoea) may vary considerably between animals.
During pausing, the activity of the scaphognathites and of the heart are closely synchronized. The cessation of scaphognathite activity is accompanied by a period of cardiac arrest, although single heart beats may sometimes occur during a pause.
As in many decapods, the Po of the post-branchial blood was high (Pa, o = 92 torr, Pv, O = 21 torr) but during a pause P, o gradually declined.