Research Reveals Animal Kingdom’s Solar Economy


According to a recent study, humans are not the only animals to take part in a solar economy of sorts.  While it may not attend solar training courses or pursue green careers, the Oriental hornet harvests the power of the sun for energy.

The recent findings were discovered by Israeli and UK researchers and published in the German journal, Naturwissenschaften.   According to the research, while hornets are usually more active in the cooler hours of the morning, Vespa orientalis, a species found across the Near East and India, performs its hardest work in the afternoon, when the day is hot.  The researchers have identified the reason for this: the insect harvests power from the sun using parts of its anatomy.

The research team, led by entomologist Dr. Marian Plotkin at Tel-Aviv University, tested the theory of the late Professor Jacob S. Ishay that the hornets have some anatomical method of harnessing solar energy.  They discovered structural elements of the insect’s exoskeleton that trap light, rather than reflect it, as well as a pigment in its head and body, called xanthopterin, that, according to Dr. Plotkin, transforms light into electrical energy.  “We assume,” she says, “that some of the energy is transformed in a photo-biochemical process, which aids the hornets with their energy demanding digging activity.”

Hornet Anatomy May One Day Boost Green Careers

The work of Dr. Plotkin and her team may one day lead to advancements in solar technology that could give the PV industry a leg up in the race to replace fossil fuels.  This could prove of particular use in regions like Ontario, which currently has a mandate to close all of its coal-fired power plants within the first half of the decade.  The provincial government’s plan has given birth to a rapidly emerging solar economy that creates, in addition to clean air and renewable power, green careers and support industries like solar training courses.  Thanks in large part to generous government incentives for renewable energy, Ontario’s PV training course graduates continue to help the province become a leader in solar power production.

Dr. Plotkin’s team’s research will help entomologists gain a better understanding of the ways that insects metabolize energy, but in the future, their findings may also give researchers in other disciplines, such as electrical engineering, insight into the ways that humans can more efficiently harness the power of the sun to meet their own considerable daily energy needs.

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