Scientists discover rare 200 million-year-old butterfly fossils

  • Scientists discover rare 200 million-year-old butterfly fossils

Scientists discover rare 200 million-year-old butterfly fossils

"Similar to angiosperm nectar, the [gymnosperm] sugary droplets offered a high-energy nutritional source, which could attract adult glossatan moths and other Mesozoic proboscate flying insects", the researchers wrote in the study.

A primitive moth (not the one in the study) of Glossata, a suborder of moths that bear a proboscis that can suck up fluid, including nectar. Using an electron microscope, they also found that about 20 of the scales were hollow.

Scientists have discovered evidence that moths and butterflies evolved 50 to 70 million years earlier than previously thought.

Developing a clearer picture of insect evolution had proved elusive because much of what is learned from ancient rock, soil and fossils comes from earth once covered by oceans, said Strother.

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.

Strother and his colleagues made the scientific case, in an article published Wednesday in Science Advances, for the moths and butterflies known as Lepidoptera emerging during the Jurassic period. Size of the scale bar is 1 cm.

The scales are modified, flattened "hairs" - and give butterflies and moths their extraordinary variety of colours and patterns.

Timo van Eldijk isolated the tiny scales from the fossils.

The researchers say that they developed a sucking proboscis to find nutrition by drawing off water drops from the tips of immature gymnosperm seeds.

Lepidopterans' evolutionary history has been murky to date.

But the latest discovery suggest Glossata originated first lepidopterans so depended on gymnosperms - plants which don't produce flowers - to satisfy their nutritional needs. The fossilised remains revealed signs of a proboscis, which has always been believed to have evolved with flowering plants.

This replaced the chewing mouthparts of their ancestors - a transition that was probably triggered by climate rather than food.

Odds are butterflies didn't come to mind.

"Because free liquid drinking is an efficient technique to replenish lost moisture and survive desiccation stress, substitution of mandibulate mouthparts by a sucking proboscis could be seen as an adaptation to adequate maintenance of body water balance of small, short-lived moths".

Mysteriously, the fossilized insect remains turned out to be more than 70 million years older than the oldest known fossils of flowering plants, throwing a monkey wrench into how the co-evolution between flowers and their pollinating insects occurred. "It extends the range to which we know butterflies existed by about 10 million years".

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.