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1.  Concept of an Active Amplification Mechanism in the Infrared Organ of Pyrophilous Melanophila Beetles 
Jewel beetles of the genus Melanophila possess a pair of metathoracic infrared (IR) organs. These organs are used for forest fire detection because Melanophila larvae can only develop in fire killed trees. Several reports in the literature and a modeling of a historic oil tank fire suggest that beetles may be able to detect large fires by means of their IR organs from distances of more than 100 km. In contrast, the highest sensitivity of the IR organs, so far determined by behavioral and physiological experiments, allows a detection of large fires from distances up to 12 km only. Sensitivity thresholds, however, have always been determined in non-flying beetles. Therefore, the complete micromechanical environment of the IR organs in flying beetles has not been taken into consideration. Because the so-called photomechanic sensilla housed in the IR organs respond bimodally to mechanical as well as to IR stimuli, it is proposed that flying beetles make use of muscular energy coupled out of the flight motor to considerably increase the sensitivity of their IR sensilla during intermittent search flight sequences. In a search flight the beetle performs signal scanning with wing beat frequency while the inputs of the IR organs on both body sides are compared. By this procedure the detection of weak IR signals could be possible even if the signals are hidden in the thermal noise. If this proposed mechanism really exists in Melanophila beetles, their IR organs could even compete with cooled IR quantum detectors. The theoretical concept of an active amplification mechanism in a photon receptor innervated by highly sensitive mechanoreceptors is presented in this article.
PMCID: PMC4685094  PMID: 26733883
Melanophila; pyrophilous insect; infrared receptor; photomechanic receptor; fire detection; active amplification
2.  Evolution of Air Breathing: Oxygen Homeostasis and the Transitions from Water to Land and Sky 
Comprehensive Physiology  2013;3(2):849-915.
Life originated in anoxia, but many organisms came to depend upon oxygen for survival, independently evolving diverse respiratory systems for acquiring oxygen from the environment. Ambient oxygen tension (PO2) fluctuated through the ages in correlation with biodiversity and body size, enabling organisms to migrate from water to land and air and sometimes in the opposite direction. Habitat expansion compels the use of different gas exchangers, for example, skin, gills, tracheae, lungs, and their intermediate stages, that may coexist within the same species; coexistence may be temporally disjunct (e.g., larval gills vs. adult lungs) or simultaneous (e.g., skin, gills, and lungs in some salamanders). Disparate systems exhibit similar directions of adaptation: toward larger diffusion interfaces, thinner barriers, finer dynamic regulation, and reduced cost of breathing. Efficient respiratory gas exchange, coupled to downstream convective and diffusive resistances, comprise the “oxygen cascade”—step-down of PO2 that balances supply against toxicity. Here, we review the origin of oxygen homeostasis, a primal selection factor for all respiratory systems, which in turn function as gatekeepers of the cascade. Within an organism's lifespan, the respiratory apparatus adapts in various ways to upregulate oxygen uptake in hypoxia and restrict uptake in hyperoxia. In an evolutionary context, certain species also become adapted to environmental conditions or habitual organismic demands. We, therefore, survey the comparative anatomy and physiology of respiratory systems from invertebrates to vertebrates, water to air breathers, and terrestrial to aerial inhabitants. Through the evolutionary directions and variety of gas exchangers, their shared features and individual compromises may be appreciated.
PMCID: PMC3926130  PMID: 23720333
3.  Diving-Flight Aerodynamics of a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e86506.
This study investigates the aerodynamics of the falcon Falco peregrinus while diving. During a dive peregrines can reach velocities of more than 320 km h−1. Unfortunately, in freely roaming falcons, these high velocities prohibit a precise determination of flight parameters such as velocity and acceleration as well as body shape and wing contour. Therefore, individual F. peregrinus were trained to dive in front of a vertical dam with a height of 60 m. The presence of a well-defined background allowed us to reconstruct the flight path and the body shape of the falcon during certain flight phases. Flight trajectories were obtained with a stereo high-speed camera system. In addition, body images of the falcon were taken from two perspectives with a high-resolution digital camera. The dam allowed us to match the high-resolution images obtained from the digital camera with the corresponding images taken with the high-speed cameras. Using these data we built a life-size model of F. peregrinus and used it to measure the drag and lift forces in a wind-tunnel. We compared these forces acting on the model with the data obtained from the 3-D flight path trajectory of the diving F. peregrinus. Visualizations of the flow in the wind-tunnel uncovered details of the flow structure around the falcon’s body, which suggests local regions with separation of flow. High-resolution pictures of the diving peregrine indicate that feathers pop-up in the equivalent regions, where flow separation in the model falcon occurred.
PMCID: PMC3914994  PMID: 24505258
4.  Infrared receptors in pyrophilous (“fire loving”) insects as model for new un-cooled infrared sensors 
Beetles of the genus Melanophila and certain flat bugs of the genus Aradus actually approach forest fires. For the detection of fires and of hot surfaces the pyrophilous species of both genera have developed infrared (IR) receptors, which have developed from common hair mechanoreceptors. Thus, this type of insect IR receptor has been termed photomechanic and shows the following two special features: (i) The formation of a complex cuticular sphere consisting of an outer exocuticular shell as well as of a cavernous microfluidic core and (ii) the enclosure of the dendritic tip of the mechanosensitive neuron inside the core in a liquid-filled chamber. Most probably a photomechanic IR sensillum acts as a microfluidic converter of infrared radiation which leads to an increase in internal pressure inside the sphere, which is measured by a mechanosensitive neuron.
A simple model for this biological IR sensor is a modified Golay sensor in which the gas has been replaced by a liquid. Here, the absorbed IR radiation results in a pressure increase of the liquid and the deflection of a thin membrane. For the evaluation of this model analytical formulas are presented, which permits the calculation of the pressure increase in the cavity, the deformation of the membrane and the time constant of an artificial leak to compensate ambient temperature changes. Some organic liquids with high thermal expansion coefficients may improve the deflection of the membrane compared to water.
PMCID: PMC3148053  PMID: 21977430
fire detection; forest fire; Golay cell; infrared sensor; pyrophilous insects

Results 1-4 (4)