Scientists accidentally found the oldest remains of a butterfly or moth

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2018-01-15 10:00:06

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Scientists accidentally found the oldest remains of a butterfly or moth

Butterflies and moths Lepidoptera are among the most beautiful insects, known to us for thousands of species from around the world. But their evolution has been a mystery to scientists, because the fossilized remains are virtually no Lepidoptera. And here scientists from the Netherlands discovered the fossil Lepidoptera that are older than those found earlier, and proved that this animal died at least 200 million years ago.

Analysis of these fossils led scientists to rethink the evolution of Lepidoptera. Because previously it was thought that a long proboscis, which butterflies and moths suck nectar from the flowers, actually appeared before flowering plants, so they originally had a different purpose.

Fossils of ancient Lepidoptera, a true rarity. Although butterflies seem fragile and delicate creatures, their external skeletons made of chitin, which is quite durable. Chitin or its breakdown products are well preserved in the fossil record.

Best of all insects preserved in amber. Fossil Lepidoptera were found in several sediments. For example, the famous butterfly Florissantia fossil formations in North America Dating from the Eocene epoch, 35 million years old. Fossil tracks with the characteristic structure of body typical of butterflies and moths, have been extracted from the Lebanese amber age of 125 million years. But then — nothing. Up to this day.

And it's weird, because Lepidoptera are closely associated with another well-known modern group of insects, flies Trichoptera. Fossils of this group are well known and can be traced to the Permian period of the Paleozoic era (250 million years). Because these groups share a common ancestor, the first Lepidoptera should have, theoretically, also be declared in the Permian period.

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Happy accident

Newly discovered fossils are not that old, but are in the Triassic period, the beginning of the dinosaur era. Delicate fossils are characteristic of butterflies and moths scale. Found them totally by accident when researchers tried to extract granules of pollen from samples of rocks in boreholes in Northern Germany.

In the process dissolves the rock (usually with the use of powerful hydrofluoric acid), leaving the organic residue rich in organic material. Although, as a rule, the pollen material and plant debris, it may be sclerosisearly (fortified) the exoskeleton of insects and other invertebrates. For example, so you can find pieces of petrified Scorpion.

A Few insects have scales on their wings and the scales on the wings of butterflies and moths are very different from any other. There are also distinctive contours and fields that allow you to select scales of a butterfly. Undoubtedly, the fossil scales found in the German hole, belonged to the ancient butterflies and moths.

Curiously, the scale indicates the group of butterflies known as Glossata. Almost all modern butterflies belong to this group, characterized by a tubular mouth piece, known as "proboscis". It is used for feeding liquids, such as nectar. There are primitive moths with the "biting" mouth, and some of them found in rocks of the age of 190 million years. But the latest discovery even more ancient and it relates the origin of the modern butterfly with the proboscis for another 70 million years ago.

Evolutionary biologists have something to think about. Until now we thought that the modified sucking proboscis of the modern moths were emerged along with the spread of flowering plants in the early Cretaceous period, about 100 million years after and recently discovered fossils.

Scientists who discovered the fossils, suggest that Lepidoptera may have acquired a proboscis to suck any liquids available in those time when the environment was much more dry. We know what took place, but it is too early to draw reliable conclusions.

Whatever the true reason for the appearance of the proboscis of a butterfly, it is an evolutionary innovation resulting in a phenomenal diversity and greatly add to the beauty of our planet.

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