A Tel Aviv University team has shown that a type of hornet has a body that acts as a photo-voltaic cell, converting the sun's energy into electricity.
"The interesting thing here is that a living biological creature does a thing like that," says physicist Professor David Bergman. "The hornet may have discovered things we do not yet know."
The research team found that the yellow and brown stripes on the Oriental Hornet abdomen can absorb solar radiation, with the yellow pigment transforming it into electric power. It had already been noticed that the hornets were much more active when the sun was warmer.
The team found that grooves in the brown shell of the hornet split light into diverging beams. The yellow stripe on the abdomen is made from pinhole depressions, and contains a pigment called xanthopterin which converts the light into electrical energy.
The researchers say they've found a number of energy processes which appear to be unique. The hornet has a well-developed heat pump system in its body, for example, keeping it cooler than the outside temperature while it forages in the sun.
They also discovered that hornets use finely honed acoustic signals to guide them so they can build their combs with extraordinary precision in total darkness.
To try and duplicate the solar-collecting ability of the hornet, the team imitated the structure of the hornet's body - but achieved a much lower efficiency. It seems there's more to the hornet than meets the eye. In the future, the team plans to try and refine the model, hoping to gather some clues to new renewable energy solutions.