The first solar-powered vertebrate
When you think about it, animals are weird. They ignore the abundant source of energy above their heads – the sun – and choose instead to invest vast amounts of energy in cumbersome equipment for eating and digesting food. Why don’t they do what plants do, and get their energy straight from sunlight?
The short answer is that many do. Corals are animals but have algae living in them that use sunlight to make sugar. Many other animals, from sponges to sea slugs, pull the same trick. One species of hornet can convert sunlight into electricity. There are also suggestions that aphids can harness sunlight, although most biologists are unconvinced.
But all these creatures are only distantly related to us. No backboned animal has been found that can harness the sun – until now. It has long been suspected, and now there is hard evidence: the spotted salamander is solar-powered.