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Triassic Lepidoptera Fossils Show Butterflies Are More Ancient Than Flowers

12 January 2018

"If anything, these butterflies probably profited" from the ecological niches left open by vanished species, van Eldijk said. They used acid to dissolve ancient rocks, leaving behind small fragments, including "perfectly preserved" scales that covered the wings of early moths and butterflies.

But the new study pushes fossil evidence for the origin of the sucking proboscis back 70 million years. This contradicts the idea that flowers drove the evolution of butterflies and moths.

But the newly discovered moths emerged before flower producing plants - or angiosperms - suggesting another reason. Moths and butterflies lived over land masses.

The scales were randomly placed in 26 metres of rock layers embracing the Triassic-Jurassic boundary near a village called Schandelah in Lower Saxony. In total, Timo discovered 70 specimens in the 201-million-year-old sample taken from 300 meters below Earth's surface.

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

About 200 million years ago, an ancient member of the insect order Lepidoptera, which includes butterflies and moths, flew among dinosaurs. Size of the scale bar is 1 cm.

"So, it was an extensive coastal area covered in thick vegetation with many organisms, much like what you would expect from a coastal forest in, for example, the MS delta", van de Schootbrugge said. They are wondering what would those insects do with the straws, as two hundred million years ago, there were no flowers on which they could feed.

Earliest fossil evidence of moths dating back 200 million years to the time of the dinosaurs uncovered
Butterflies and Moths May Have Predated Flowers

The discovery's abstract indicated that the evolution of butterflies and development of a proboscis may be regarded as an adaptive innovation to sucking liquids.

Lepidopterans' evolutionary history has been murky to date.

These days, glossatan moths depend on flowering plants, known as angiosperms, for food.

In the textbook example of coevolution, butterflies developed proboscises in response to plants that developed flowers. But the study authors believe the more likely explanation is that butterflies and moths evolved their proboscises before flowers came into being-possibly to help them lap up the sugary pollination drops produced by gymnosperms, the most common group of plants that sprung from the ground during the Jurassic.

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.

The earliest known butterfly fossils are from the mid Eocene epoch - between 40-50 million years ago.

Experts found evidence of proboscis on some of the insects, a long needle-like tube that was thought to have evolved to reach into flowering plants, but - based on the findings - may have originally developed for another objective.

Triassic Lepidoptera Fossils Show Butterflies Are More Ancient Than Flowers