Abstract

The Oriental hornet Vespa orientalis (Hymenoptera, Vespinae) flies outside its nest only in the daytime and never in the dark. Oriental hornets can be anaesthetized by means of diethyl ether, following which they awake spontaneously within about ≥1 h. However, when the anaesthetized hornets are exposed to direct irradiation they awake much faster and immediately fly out and this is within the temperature range for their normal activities (20–40°C). Light exerts an effect not only on intact hornets, but also on their main body parts, be they the head, thorax or gaster, or a torso without a head or without a gaster. These body parts also ‘awake’ from ether anaesthesia when illuminated, especially by ultraviolet (UV) B or shorter light wavelengths, but a body without a gaster awakes much later than normal. As for flight activity, headless hornets do not fly at all, while hornets devoid of a gaster flutter their wings when illuminated but are incapable of rising in the air. When vespan cuticular regions are coated with paint that blocks the passage of light, such as UVB blockers, or with white Tipp-Ex®, the awakening from anaesthesia is delayed. The vespan cuticle evinces photovoltaic activity, even in dead specimens, so that upon exposure to light it is possible to record levels of 30–180 mV, both in a wakeful hornet and in one that has undergone anaesthesia. We conjecture that in the awake hornet the voltage that its cuticle generates under the influence of light is transported within the cuticular interlamellar membranes to be utilized as flight energy by the muscles attached to them; however, in the narcotized hornet, the diethyl ether apparently decreases or disrupts membranal order, blocking any ionic channel activity and thereby inducing the anaesthesia. Presumably, this state of phase transition is remedied spontaneously, albeit in a lengthy process, or else the light energy in UV speeds up restoration of the ionic channel activity and the synaptic transmission and thereby contributes to a more rapid awakening. In this regard, the hornet gaster is an extensive region for absorbing light, which explains why its absence considerably delays the awakening from anaesthesia.

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