Published: Sat, January 13, 2018
Health | By Jay Jacobs

Scientists discover rare 200 million-year-old butterfly fossils

Scientists discover rare 200 million-year-old butterfly fossils

Scientists hope the discovery could help them understand the early evolution of moths and butterflies, and aid researchers with their conservation. The team soon discovered that the scales belonged to long extinct relatives of modern butterflies and moths. When he analyzed those scales under a microscope, he found out that some scales nearly 200 million years old, were hollow in structure.

Modern-day butterflies are well known for their connection with flowering plants and the butterfly "tongue" has always been assumed to be an important adaptation for feeding on flowering plants.

It had been suspected the feeding device developed to enable moths to suck on flowers.

A few fossils which are too tiny to identify with the naked eye, have revealed the interesting history of the evolution of moths and butterflies. Some were solid and compact, which was not particularly unusual; previous research has shown that this structure was typical of early moths and butterflies, which used mandibles to chomp their food. "Exceptionally well-preserved specimens were recovered".

An open-access study, titled "A Triassic-Jurassic window into the evolution of Lepidoptera", appeared online Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

Researchers analyzed about 70 scales and scale fragments, mostly wing scales, which were found in a drilled core dating back about 201 million years to the Triassic-Jurassic period in northern Germany.

Photo A scanning electron mircoscope image of the body and wings of a proboscid-bearing moth that is covered densely with scales. Size of the scale bar is 1 cm. Mr. van Eldijk was tasked with fishing out more, and for that job he was given a dissection probe with a single nostril hair.

He said: "The microfossils extend the minimum calibrated age of glossatan moths by about 70 million years - refuting ancestral association of the group with flowering plants".

Lepidopterans' evolutionary history has been murky to date.

"So these moths and butterflies used their tongue to tap into other liquids that were available at the time, namely the sugary nectar produced by conifer-like plants". "What we found is that there were moths and butterflies with a proboscis that were already around way before there is evidence of flowering plants", said van Eldijk. "It was odd to say the least, that there would be butterflies before there were flowers".

Another is that the early Jurassic and late Triassic era was a very dry and arid time and the proboscis of the butterflies was an 'efficient technique to replenish lost moisture and survive desiccation stress, ' the researchers said in the study.

There are some 160,000 species of moths in the world - compared to 17,500 species of butterflies - making them one of the most widespread insect orders in the world. "It extends the range to which we know butterflies existed by about 10 million years".

As well as pushing back the date for the emergence of Lepidoptera, the discovery proves that butterflies did not evolve alongside flowers as previously thought.

Like this: