The Infrared Receptor of Melanophila Acuminata De Geer (Coleoptera: Buprestidae): Ultrastructural Study of a Unique Insect Thermoreceptor and Its Possible Descent From a Hair Mechanoreceptor

Tissue Cell. 1995 Dec;27(6):645-58. doi: 10.1016/s0040-8166(05)80020-5.


The paired infrared organs of Melanophila acuminata consist of 50-100 sensilla situated at the bottom of a pit next to the coxae of the mesothoracic legs, where no exocuticle is developed. Each sensillum is accompanied by a wax gland and has a cuticular lens-like spherule (diameter 12-15 microm) bulging out with its upper hemisphere above the surface, covered only by a thin cuticle of about 1 microm. Distal processes of two enveloping cells surround the entire spherule in the form of a flattened protoplasmatic layer with the exception of a small apical stalk connecting the spherule to the outer cuticle. The spherule is innervated by a single sensory neuron of the ciliary type which is anchored ventrally with the distal tip of its cylindrical and unbranched DOS in the spherule. The insertion of the dendrite, which contains a well-developed tubular body, is always eccentric like in a hair mechanoreceptor (sensillum trichodeum) and there is no evidence of any optical function of the spherule. Three enveloping cells exist, but only one - probably the trichogen cell - forms a relatively small outer receptor lymph cavity. In the posterior wall of the pit - where exocuticle is developed - so-called suppressed systems can be found which remain completely below the cuticle with their otherwise well-developed spherules. Additionally, there is a tendency towards basally flattening and longitudinally stretching of spherules which are situated more peripherally. They strongly resemble the basal regions of hair mechanoreceptors (sensilla trichodea) in their immediate neighbourhood which are also accompanied by wax glands. Because of the existence of these transitional stages and the great ultrastructural resemblance between infrared receptors and hair mechanoreceptors concerning the bauplan of the sensory neurons and their mode of innervating the cuticular apparatus, we conclude that the infrared sensilla are probably derived from hair mechanoreceptors. Based on these results and transmission measurements of infrared radiation through the cuticular components of the organ, a model of the possible function of the infrared receptor is presented.