Science

Researchers accidentally find oldest ever fossils of butterfly and moth

A new study has revealed an interesting fact about the moths and the butterflies. The study says that the proboscis or the tongue like appendages, that the moths use to suck fluids like nectar, is more ancient than flowers. The scientists analyzed the fossils of a prehistoric moth and came up with the conclusion that the ancestors of the modern-day moths or butterflies existed before flowering plants. Proboscis is a very important organ of moths and butterflies. It is a long tubular flexible feeding and sucking organ of seen in butterflies. The lead author of the new study Timo van Eldijk, a researcher at Utrecht University in the Netherlands said that traditionally is known that the butterflies used their proboscis to feed on flowers which is a standard adaptation in case of butterflies.

But when their team analyzed the fossilized scales of ancient moths they found out that the moths existed earlier than the flowers. “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. Hence, it can be said that the latest study upends the traditional ideas regarding the proboscis of butterflies.

The existence of proboscis in prehistoric butterflies before the existence of the flowering plants strongly indicates that proboscis had some different utility apart from the sucking nectar from flower. If there were no flower, the prehistoric butterflies having proboscis must have used the special organ for a different purpose. Timo van Eldijk and his team discovered the fossils of the moths in the German soil cores. According to the scientists, it is difficult to get the fossilized remains of moths and butterflies as their body and wings are very delicate. So, van Eldijk was lucky enough to recover the fossils of prehistoric moths, which he considers as one of the oldest moth fossils ever found.

Timo van Eldijk isolated the tiny scales from the fossils. These microscopic scales coat the insects’ wings and bodies and also provide the butterflies their colors. 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. Van Eldijk got around 70 such scales from the ancient German soil. When he analyzed those scales under a microscope, he found out that some scales almost 200 million years old, were hollow in structure.

As per the study, the only moths and butterflies having hollow scales are from the Group Glossata which are known to have proboscis. Van Eldijk said that the most exciting thing about the study was the hollow scales. If you find the hollow scales, you know the innovation of the proboscis must have occurred before that.” He said. The study further revealed that the latest research of fossilized remains of the butterflies and moths with proboscis suggest that they are about 70 million years older than the previously analyzed fossils of moths.

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