Butterflies and Moths May Have Predated Flowers


The fossils were found inside an ancient rock from Germany. These microscopic plates cover nearly every part of a butterfly, and are what help paint their wings a variety of colours, from shimmering cobalt blues to patterns of orange and black.

Given their complexity, and the time it would've taken to evolve to have such complex features, these fossils push the calculated age of glossatan moths back by about 70 million years to the Late Triassic "refuting ancestral association of the group with flowering plants", the researchers wrote in the study.

Study co-author Timo van Eldijk from Utrecht University in the Netherlands said: "By studying how insects and their evolution were affected by dramatic greenhouse warming at the start of the Jurassic, we hope to provide insight into how insects might respond to the human-induced climate change challenges we face today".

Scientists have been studying some newly discovered fossils of butterfly scales that are the size of a speck of dust.

But in analyzing the murky solution they stumbled upon a new mystery: several unknown scales were left behind in the gunk.

While studying fossil cores dating to the late Triassic and early Jurassic periods, an worldwide team of researchers discovered the fossilized remains of the tiny scales that coat the bodies of butterflies and moths. "I was just provided these by my professor, I don't know whose nose hair it was". Mr. van Eldijk was tasked with fishing out more, and for that job he was given a dissection probe with a single nostril hair.

It makes them 10 million years older than the previous record holder - three wings of a species named Archaeolepis mane that was found in Dorset. The hollow scales provided clues for another mystery, this one concerning the insects' mouths.

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As they further studied the fossils, they found out that some of the insects belonged to the group are still alive today and they do have a long straw-like tongue for sucking up the sugary nectar from the flower.

In the years since, Strother and his colleagues have amassed additional evidence that moths and butterflies emerged at least 200 million years ago.

Due to their make-up, now butterflies and moths can easily adapt to a variety of different conditions spreading to different continents except Antarctica, which indicates how insects might respond to the global warming and answer questions surrounding Lepidoptera's resilience to extinction throughout the years. While it is clear that plants did not evolve flowers until 130 million years ago, the butterfly developed its tongue way before that.

This is a living representative of a primitive Glossata, moths that have a proboscid that suck up fluids like nectar.

Dr van Eldijk said these have a sucking proboscis.

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.