Journal article Open Access

Biological infrared imaging and sensing

Campbell, Angela L.; Naik, Rajesh R.; Sowards, Laura; Stone, Morley O.

A variety of thermoreceptors are present in animals and insects, which aid them in hunting, feeding and survival. Infrared (IR) imaging pit organs in Crotaline and Boid snakes enable them to detect, locate and apprehend their prey by detecting the IR radiation they emit. IR pit organs of common vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) enable them to detect IR radiation emitted by blood-rich locations on homeothermic prey. The beetle Melanophila acuminata locates forest fires by IR-detecting pit organs in order to lay their eggs in freshly killed conifers. Thermoreceptors located in the wings and antennae of darkly pigmented butterflies (Pachliopta aristolochiae and Troides rhadamathus plateni) protect them from heat damage while sun basking. Blood-sucking bugs (Triatoma infestans) are speculated to possess thermoreceptors, which enable them to perceive the radiant heat emitted by homeothermic prey and estimate its temperature at a distance. This is a review of the diverse types of biological thermoreceptors, their structure and function, and how electron microscopy has been instrumental in determining their ultrastructure.
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