Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Oriental hornet is the first-ever discovered animal capable of harvesting energy from the solar rays of the sun.

The Oriental hornet, Vespa orientalis, is native to many areas across the Eastern hemisphere including Asia, Africa, Madagascar, and Africa. Their diet consists primarily of fruits, insects, and animal proteins, serving primarily as terrestrial scavengers. Oriental hornets are 25-33mm in length and have a distinct yellow stripe that runs the length of its exoskeleton. 

These creatures live in nests built underground and leave their homes to search for food and sunlight. While most wasps are active in the morning, oriental hornets are most active in the middle of the day, lending to their unique association with sunlight.

Image: Bj Schoenmakers, Wikimedia Commons

Scientists analyzed the photoelectric properties of hornets and discovered that when a part of the yellow cuticle that runs the length of their abdomen is exposed to sunlight, it generates voltage. Even more unique is the varying intensities of electricity displayed when the same light is exposed to different portions of the hornet’s cuticle.

Research explains that the hornet’s yellow tissues trap sunlight while their brown tissues generate electricity using melanin which converts light into heat. The alternating banded physiology of the tissues accounts for physical retainment of the pigments; as they get smaller, the space in between gets tighter, holding the light in place for conversion.

In essence, the oriental hornet’s exoskeleton cells serve as an authentic solar power source, harvesting energy the animals can then apply to physiological activities such as temperature regulation.

“We’ve seen solar harvesting in plants and bacteria, but never before in animals,” reported Marian Plotkin of Tel-Aviv University to a reporter for National Geographic.