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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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  • by plover (150551) * on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:15PM (#34495856) Homepage Journal

    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?

  • Not a unique ability (Score:5, Interesting)

    by scdeimos (632778) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:18PM (#34495874)
    From TFA:

    The Oriental hornet has a unique ability to harvest solar energy, scientists have discovered.

    Not true. Many marine organisms use Zooanthella [wikipedia.org] to harvest solar energy. This is why a number of corals and anemone are very difficult to keep in marine aquariums - the spectrum and power of artificial light has to be "just right" otherwise the organisms eject their zooantehlla cells and as a result starve to death over the following weeks or months.

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:21PM (#34495916)
    This will clearly have influence on future solar power research. I know that there are research groups trying to use insights from plant photosynthesis for building solar cells, and having another natural system that is not plant (or bacterium) based will inspire a lot of new work.

    One of the things that is most interesting is the nano-structures that are used to make light gathering more efficient. Understanding these structures could improve the efficiency of existing solar power collectors. With current genetic techniques it might even be possible to grow these structures, and perhaps even used grown material in real world applications.

    Another point is that the wasp's collection structures are yellow, not green like plant chlorophyll. The green color results from chlorophyll not using green light, but absorbing more blue end light. If the wasps look yellow, that might mean that they are efficient in a different part of the visible light spectrum.

  • by khallow (566160) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:40PM (#34496054)

    Not true. Many marine organisms use Zooanthella to harvest solar energy. This is why a number of corals and anemone are very difficult to keep in marine aquariums - the spectrum and power of artificial light has to be "just right" otherwise the organisms eject their zooantehlla cells and as a result starve to death over the following weeks or months.

    It's worth noting here that this is a symbiotic relationship between two species. It appears that the hornets may have a novel mechanism that isn't the result of symbiosis.

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

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... org minus author> on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:58PM (#34496182)

    Oh, interesting, sorry for the mis-labeling then. It worked for me, but I'm on a campus that subscribes to Springer journals, which are usually paywalled, so I assumed it was paywalled.

    It looks like Naturwissenschaften is part of a "Springer OpenChoice" program where authors can choose to make their paper open-access by paying Springer $3,000, which these authors must've done I guess? I rarely see anyone pay those fees in my field (computer science), but I've heard that in biology grants are more willing to pay such fees.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:17PM (#34496314) Homepage Journal

    Brings to mind the Platypus which uses electricity to locate prey. Maybe hornets use electric potentials as a sensory input.

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