The Oriental hornet can harvest solar energy through its body shell or exoskeleton, a group of Tel Aviv University researchers has shown.
They demonstrated how the animal takes the sun's energy and convert it into electric power in the brown and yellow parts of its body.
Previously, entomologists noted that Oriental wasps, unlike other wasps and bees, are active in the afternoon rather than the morning when the sun is just rising. They also noticed that the hornet digs more intensely as the sun's intensity increases.
Taking this information to the lab, the TAU team studied weather conditions like temperature, humidity and solar radiation to determine if and how these factors also affected the hornet's behavior, but found that UVB radiation alone dictated the change.
They also found that the yellow and brown stripes on the hornet abdomen enable a photo-voltaic effect: the brown and yellow stripes on the hornet abdomen can absorb solar radiation, and the yellow pigment transforms that into electric power.
The team determined that the brown shell of the hornet was made from grooves that split light into diverging beams. The yellow stripe on the abdomen is made from pinhole depressions, and contains a pigment called xanthopterin.
Together, the light diverging grooves, pinhole depressions and xanthopterin change light into electrical energy. The shell traps the light and the pigment does the conversion.
The findings were recently published in the German journal Naturwissenschaften.