Hornets have been discovered that not only thrive in sunny conditions, but may actually use the solar power they collect in order to power their bodies. The hornets were discovered to actually be able to perform an incredible feat once thought left to the realm of plants alone. They can actually collect and metabolize sunlight and convert it into energy much like a solar generator. But in the case of these solar hornets, the process is done entirely on their bodies.
The Oriental Hornet looks very much like the hornets found in the UK or the United States, with one exception. In addition to being a chestnut brown color, they bear on their abdomens a broad yellow stripe. And it is this stripe that actually can collect solar power in a way that allows them to metabolize it and turn it into energy very much like the energy they would have received from eating.
While the incredible feat is still not entirely explained from an evolutionary perspective, scientists are confident that this stripe is groundbreaking as a way for an insect to gain energy without eating. But unlike plants, who utilize the sun’s rays in a form similar to photosynthesis, this wasp actually depends on a pigment known as Xanthopterin to convert the light into energy. And yet scientists have been unable to discover precisely how this feat is accomplished. Xanthopterin may, at some point in the future, be a very important area of exploration for future technologies.
If an insect can use a tiny band of Xanthopterin collecting the sun’s rays, why couldn’t humans also benefit from it? Could we one day see a genetically manufactured and grown solar array that collects the sun’s rays at an efficiency far better than traditional solar panels? And if the biological mechanism of the wasp that actually converts the light into energy were to ever be fully understood, is it possible that we could even design solar panels and energy collection systems that actually work with more efficiency than anything we currently have? Imagine the impact this system would have on worldwide starvation if we were to discover a way to directly use the sun’s rays to provide us all with the energy we needed to exist. Is it possible that a simple discovery on the abdomen of a wasp could be responsible for miraculous future developments with sufficient study?
Xanthopterin is not always used for the purpose of converting light to energy, however. Many breeds of butterfly actually have the molecule in their wings, and most mammals release amounts of it produced within their own bodies in the form of urine. It is not the Xanthopterin in itself that is known for its energy producing powers in the wasps, but rather an unknown metabolic mechanism that allows them to turn a simple photon of light into energy for the insects allowing them to work faster and longer while in direct sunlight even if they are not consuming as much food.