Oriental Hornets Are Literally Solar Powered

oriental hornet photo

Those yellow parts are much more than mere decoration... Photo: Wikipedia.

While it's true that the vast web of life on this planet is essentially solar powered--without the sun's energy there is no life--new research shows that oriental hornets (Vespa orientalis) go one step beyond, employing special structures on their bodies to trap the sun's rays and turn it directly into energy. Really.It's been known for a long time that oriental hornets are most active in the middle of the day and dig their nests underground when the sun is at its brightest intensity. Now scientists writing in the journal Naturwissenschaften have found out why.

As BBC News reports, the researchers examined the hornet's exoskeleton with an atomic force microscope and found that the yellow band around their abdomen is structured differently than the brown parts of their bodies.

This is made from a series of oval-shaped protrusions, each containing a pinhole-sized depression. Each protrusion is just 50nm tall and interlocks with another...Essentially, say the researchers, they stop light being reflected off the hornet's body. Instead the light is trapped, and harvested for energy.

The energy is harvested via the pigment xanthopterin, which creates the yellow color. This "works as a light harvesting molecule, transforming light into electrical energy."

Read more: BBC News, and the original journal article: Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis)
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