Butterfly tongue existed before flowering plants, says new study

Earliest fossil evidence of moths dating back 200 million years to the time of the dinosaurs uncovered

Five years later, Strother and colleagues from natural history museums in Germany and a university in the Netherlands have developed a scientific case showing the Lepidoptera evolved earlier than previously established - emerging during the Jurassic period.

It wasn't the first time something like this was observed.

About a year later in Paris, Strother found himself seated at a dinner near a man named Torsten Wappler.

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

Odds are butterflies didn't come to mind.

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.

An global 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".

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. Size of the scale bar is 1 cm.

While studying fossil cores dating to the late Triassic and early Jurassic periods, an global team of researchers discovered the fossilized remains of the tiny scales that coat the bodies of butterflies and moths.

It has also been revealed that the insect order, which is believed to have been co-evolved with flowers, is actually much older.

But the latest discovery suggest Glossata originated first lepidopterans so depended on gymnosperms - plants which don't produce flowers - to satisfy their nutritional needs. It could also be that the flower fossil record is missing, or that these elongated mouthparts had another objective entirely. "There are lots of biological structures that hang around with one function-and at a later point that function gets changed, or all of a sudden that function has a new context". The rocks date from a period right around the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event, when numerous creatures went extinct.

"If anything, these butterflies probably profited" from the ecological niches left open by vanished species, van Eldijk said. The new research suggests that butterflies are survivors.

The earliest known butterfly fossils are from the mid Eocene epoch - between 40-50 million years ago. The challenge is: can we figure out what they are? "It is more like a puzzle or a mystery".

An open-access study, titled "A Triassic-Jurassic window into the evolution of Lepidoptera", appeared online Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. The authors of the paper suspect that since the scales on the wings look just like the members of this group, the ancient species from the fossils might be a member as well, hosting the characteristic curled-up drinking tubes on their faces.

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