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Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis)


The Oriental hornet worker correlates its digging activity with solar insolation. Solar radiation passes through the epicuticle, which exhibits a grating-like structure, and continues to pass through layers of the exo-endocuticle until it is absorbed by the pigment melanin in the brown-colored cuticle or xanthopterin in the yellow-colored cuticle. The correlation between digging activity and the ability of the cuticle to absorb part of the solar radiation implies that the Oriental hornet may harvest parts of the solar radiation. In this study, we explore this intriguing possibility by analyzing the biophysical properties of the cuticle. We use rigorous coupled wave analysis simulations to show that the cuticle surfaces are structured to reduced reflectance and act as diffraction gratings to trap light and increase the amount absorbed in the cuticle. A dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC) was constructed in order to show the ability of xanthopterin to serve as a light-harvesting molecule.

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The authors would like to thank the Bio-AFM Laboratory Manager, Dr. Artium Khatchatouriants, from the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at Tel Aviv University for his help and advice. We would like to thank Dr. Vered Holdengreber from the Electron Microscopy Unit, IDRFU Life Sciences at Tel-Aviv University for her help in the preparation of the cuticular slices of the exo-endocutile for ESEM analysis. This work was performed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a PhD degree of Marian Plotkin.

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Correspondence to Marian Plotkin.

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Plotkin, M., Hod, I., Zaban, A. et al. Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis). Naturwissenschaften 97, 1067–1076 (2010).

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  • Oriental hornet Vespa orientalis
  • Cuticle
  • Dye-sensitized solar cell
  • IV measurements
  • Antireflection
  • Light trapping
  • Diffraction grating