The evolution of wetness perception: A comparison of arachnid, insect and human models
journal contributionposted on 30.09.2019, 12:51 authored by Charlotte Merrick, Davide Filingeri
Hygroreceptors are a type of humidity sensor that have been identified in several invertebrate classes including Insecta and Arachnida. While their structure has been well researched, the nature of the mechanisms behind their function is debated as being either mechanical, evaporative, or psychrometric in insects and potentially also olfactory in arachnids. There is evidence that can be used to support or oppose each of these concepts, which also invites the possibility of multiple unified mechanisms occurring together. The integration of multiple sensory modalities has also formed the foundation of wetness perception in humans, led by thermal and tactile cues with supplementary information from vision and sound. These inputs are integrated by a vast neural network in the brain, which also occurs on a smaller scale in insects and arachnids. It is possible that as cerebral capacity increased throughout human evolution, this facilitated a preferable system of wetness perception via multisensory integration and rendered hygroreceptors obsolete. While this cerebral development hypothesis is only speculative, it gives a framework for further investigation. Additional research needs to be conducted to correctly classify hygroreceptor types in invertebrates and their relative prevalence before evolutionary associations can be made with vertebrate species. This integratory premise also applies to the human system, as knowing the relative contribution and compounding effects of each sensory modality on wetness perception will aid the overall understanding of the system and help to uncover the evolutionary development pathways underpinning each sense.