Nature always finds the most efficient and environmentally-friendly ways to keep things running smoothly; that's why scientists have been studying features of some of the animal kingdom's smallest inhabitants, hoping to learn the secrets of their seemingly endless energy.
A new study recently discovered the oriental hornet (Vespa Orientalis) has special pigments in the tissues that make up its brown and yellow stripes. These pigments act like modern "solar cells," first trapping the light and then converting it to electricity.
For many years scientists had been aware that the hornet was able to produce electricity in its exoskeleton, but they didn't know how.
Marian Plotkin, leader of the most recent study, credits her late mentor Jacob Ishay for discovering that the hornet seemed to be most energetic during parts of the day when sunlight was most intense, a clue that put her research on the right path.
The brown tissues "are a lot like a light trap—only one percent of the light that strikes is reflected away," Plotkin told National Geographic. The hornet's yellow tissues contained the obscure pigment xanthopterin, which gives butterfly wings and mammal urine their color.
"When the team isolated xanthopterin in a liquid solution, and then placed the solution inside a solid solar cell electrode, a type of conductor. When the scientists shed light on the electrode, the pigment in the solution generated electricity" (National Geographic).
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