Scientists discover rare 200 million-year-old butterfly fossils

Desis bobmarleyi species of spider

Desis bobmarleyi species of spider

However, researchers have gradually started to piece together evidence that moths and butterflies existed earlier than the Cretaceous period, which began 145 million years ago.

The authors believe their results will be an important basis for future studies on butterfly and moth evolution.

The common jezebel butterfly, Delias eucharis.

That's the finding of a new study by a group of researchers including Boston College Research Professor Paul K. Strother.

Researchers studying deep-drilling cores have long noticed odd flecks of material in their samples, possibly from insects.

It wasn't the first time something like this was observed. But the specks were abundant in Strother's samples, so he analyzed them more carefully. He was able to isolate the unusual features but wasn't able to identify them.

About a year later in Paris, Strother found himself seated at a dinner near a man named Torsten Wappler. "They were feeding off the cone-borne seeds - mainly as a source of water", said Strother. Identifying microorganisms, especially in unusual samples, typically involves a lot of routine, monotonous work.

"Timo is the guy that did all the work", Strother remembers.

The order of insects that includes moths and butterflies - Lepidoptera - comes from the Greek terms for "scale" and "winged".

"We found the microscopic remains of these organisms in the form of these scales", said Bas van de Schootbrugge from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. But van Eldijk was surprised to discover that other scales were hollow-a feature only seen among moths and butterflies with proboscises. But butterflies and moths have scales on their wings, legs and bodies. "Exceptionally well-preserved specimens were recovered". But there was even more. The first one was the "primitive" one, with a set of scales that was solid all the way down.

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

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

Scientists have reckoned that flowering plants preceded the insects that fed off of them. But that theory might be wrong. When he analyzed those scales under a microscope, he found out that some scales nearly 200 million years old, were hollow in structure. The scales were described as "not diagnostic", Strother said - meaning such parts did not belong only to a specific insect group.

The two paleontologists dissolving rock cores more than 200 million years old were looking for vestiges of freshwater algae.

To help them slurp up tasty nectar from floral tubes, butterflies and moths have a long, tongue-like mouthpiece known as a proboscis. Credit: Hossein Rajaei, Museum für Naturkunde.

Gymnosperms are flowerless, seed-producing plants such as conifers which dominated the Jurassic landscape and produce tiny drops of high-energy liquid. The more intricate the flower's nectar spur, the more intricate the insect slurper became. Maybe there is a missing record of Triassic or early Jurassic flowers. The rocks date from a period right around the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event, when numerous creatures went extinct. "Instead, this group diversified during a period of ecological turnover", he said. The new research suggests that butterflies are survivors. However, one major group of insects, the Lepidoptera moths and butterflies, appeared unaffected.

The remains of primitive moths dating back to the time of the dinosaurs 200 million years ago have been dug up in northern Germany. The challenge is: can we figure out what they are? 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. "It is more like a puzzle or a mystery". Timo van Eldijk and his team discovered the fossils of the moths in the German soil cores.