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Scientists Discover Solar Powered Hornets 177

Posted by samzenpus
from the beware-of-the-electric-bees dept.
adeelarshad82 writes "The oriental hornet is more active during the day, and tends to become even more active as the temperature rises. And now scientists have discovered the reason: the hornets are solar powered. It turns out that the distinctive yellow stripe on the hornet's abdomen is actually full of tiny protrusions that gather sunlight and harness it for energy. The insect also features a special pigment, called xanthopterin, that helps with the process."
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Scientists Discover Solar Powered Hornets

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  • journal article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Trepidity (597) <.gro.hsikcah. .ta. .todhsals-muiriled.> on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:15PM (#34495858)

    It's unfortunately paywalled, but in case anyone has access to a library with a subscription, the journal article this news article is about is:

    Plotkin et al. (2010). Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis) [springerlink.com]. Naturwissenschaften 97(12): 1067-1076.

  • Re:journal article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:20PM (#34495912)

    It's unfortunately paywalled, but in case anyone has access to a library with a subscription, the journal article this news article is about is:

    Plotkin et al. (2010). Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis). Naturwissenschaften 97(12): 1067-1076.

    The full text [springerlink.com] works for me and I'm not in a library or anywhere else with a journal subscription.

  • by c0lo (1497653) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:49PM (#34496130)
    Ideas, yes (e.g. use of patterned capture surfaces, possible multiple reflections to increase the efficiency of a cell? Maybe not quite new).

    New materials? The full text [springerlink.com] version of the article (posted by someone above), mentions a measured the conversion efficiency of a xanthopterin-sensitized TiO2 solar cell to 0.335% - clearly some more work needs to be done (e.g. other substate to senzitize?).

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:26PM (#34496368) Homepage

    Since xanthopterin converts light directly into electricity, according to the research, what exactly does the wasp do with the electricity produced? Does it directly excite muscles? Is there a tiny capacitor in the abdomen that dumps the energy into pulling the wings down?

    Presumably it would use the electrons generated in a redox [wikipedia.org] reaction which generate ATP [wikipedia.org] which is the basic power supply of the cell.

    Of course, this is all very hypothetical and hand waving at this point. However, if real, it could be a Big Deal - now you have another molecule, aside from the chlorophyll complex that can take photons and use them in cellular reactions. Photosynthesis is quite a bit more efficient that photovoltaic cells - assuming that this really does produce electrons at the end of the reaction and it's similarly efficient, or even just easier to copy / clone / manipulate, we might yet have a decent solar to electricity system.

    One of these days.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 09, 2010 @01:09AM (#34497228)

    Photosynthesis is quite a bit more efficient that photovoltaic cells

    Uh no. Photosynthesis efficiency varies from 0.1% to 8%. Solar panels go from 6% to 41%. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthesis#Efficiency .

  • by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Thursday December 09, 2010 @03:35PM (#34505230) Homepage Journal

    "Photosynthesis efficiency varies from 0.1% to 8%."

    Only in sunlight driven systems, just FYI, following the stated source. In targeted wavelength systems, this is absolutely nowhere near the case.

    In LED driven systems, photosynthetic efficiency jumps double to nearly quadruple that, tested over and over again in multiple of my systems. We can push it as far as nearly 50% efficiency before we hit maximum saturation if we pulse the light instead of a solid steady output.

    See, what mainly limits efficiency is the rate at which chlorophyll degrades and regenerates. When it processes energy, it rips itself apart and gets rebuilt. This is how light bleaching happens, too much light, too much photosynthesis, the plant can't regenerate chlorophyll as fast as it's producing energy, and it 'burns' out.

    Stop relying upon wikipedia. It's so outdated as of now for my field of research that they might as well delete the entire section from their site.

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