Moths, butterflies came first, then flowers, new research shows


"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.

An advanced team of scientists has unearthed fossilized bits of ancient butterflies preserved in rock cores.The discovery revealed that the earliest butterflies and moths may have existed between the Triassic and Jurassic period even before flowering plants bloomed, technically refuting the ancestral association of butterflies with flowers.

Dr van de Schootbrugge is quoted saying in a BBC report, "These finds push back the evolution of this group with proboscises - with a tongue - by about 70 million years". He said that when one touches the wing of a butterfly one could see that the colors do get faded away and this results in scales coming out of the wings.

"Wing and body scales of primitive moths found in the 'pond scum".

The slides of rock samples drilled in the German countryside included some material that looked familiar to Strother, a Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences researcher at Boston College's Weston Observatory, who studies the origin and early evolution of land plants.

But in analyzing the murky solution they stumbled upon a new mystery: several unknown scales were left behind in the gunk. The team soon discovered that the scales belonged to long extinct relatives of modern butterflies and moths.

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".

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"The nose hair has just the right length and springiness for getting a pollen grain, or in this case the butterfly scale, to adhere to it", Mr. van Eldijk said. "I was just provided these by my professor, I don't know whose nose hair it was". The earliest known butterfly fossils are from the mid Eocene epoch - between 40-50 million years ago.

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. 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.

A species of butterflies and moths identified with the lineage Lepidoptera have existed 70 million years than previously known.

An worldwide group of paleontologists has found the oldest fossilized remains of insects from the order Lepidoptera known to date.

Dr van Eldijk said these have a sucking proboscis.

In the years since, Strother and his colleagues have amassed additional evidence that moths and butterflies emerged at least 200 million years ago. "If they had a proboscis, what were they using it for?"