Bioinspired pressure and flow sensing
In technical systems, static pressure and pressure changes are usually measured with piezoelectric materials or solid membranes. In this paper, we suggest a new biomimetic principle based on thin air layers that can be used to measure underwater pressure changes. Submerged backswimmers (Notonecta sp.) are well known for their ability to retain air layers on the surface of their forewings (hemelytra). While analyzing the hemelytra of Notonecta, we found that the air layer on the hemelytra, in combination with various types of mechanosensitive hairs (clubs and pins), most likely serve a sensory function. We suggest that this predatory aquatic insect can detect pressure changes and water movements by sensing volume changes of the air layer under water. In the present study, we used a variety of microscopy techniques to investigate the fine structure of the hemelytra. Furthermore, we provide a biomimetic proof of principle to validate our hypothesis. The suggested sensory principle has never been documented before and is not only of interest for sensory biologists but can also be used for the development of highly sensitive underwater acoustic or seismographic sensory systems.