This review focuses on the structure and function of a single mechanoreceptor organ in the cuticle of spiders. Knowledge emerging from the study of this organ promises to yield general principles that can be applied to mechanosensation in a wide range of animal systems. The lyriform slit sense organ on the antero-lateral leg patella of the spider Cupiennius salei is unusual in possessing large sensory neurons, whose cell bodies are close to the sites of sensory transduction, and accessible to intracellular recording during mechanotransduction. This situation, combined with recent technical developments, has made it possible to observe and experiment with all the major stages of mechanosensation. Important findings include the approximate size, number and ionic selectivity of the ion channels responsible for mechanotransduction, the types of voltage-activated ion channels responsible for action potential encoding, and the mechanisms controlling the dynamic properties of transduction and encoding. Most recently, a complex efferent system for peripheral modulation of mechanosensation has been discovered and partially characterized. Much remains to be learned about mechanosensation, but the lyriform slit sense organ system continues to offer important opportunities to advance our understanding of this crucial sense.