Butterfly tongue existed before flowering plants, says new study

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"The consensus has been that insects followed flowers", Strother said in the statement.

Curious children who have caught a butterfly by hand, only to find their fingers coated in messy powder, may not realise that they have brushed off the fluttering insect's scales.

It makes them 10 million years older than the previous record holder - three wings of a species named Archaeolepis mane that was found in Dorset.

"So these moths and butterflies used their tongue to tap into other liquids that were available at the time, namely the sugary nectar produced by conifer-like plants".

It had been suspected the feeding device developed to enable moths to suck on flowers.


"This new evidence suggests that perhaps the coiled mouthparts had another role, before flowering plants evolved", he said.

The discovery means that the Lepidoptera - the order of insects to which butterflies and moths belong - once lived in the time of the dinosaurs and originated some 70 million years before flowers.

The scales are modified, flattened "hairs" - and give butterflies and moths their extraordinary variety of colours and patterns. The rocks date from a period right around the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event, when numerous creatures went extinct. "Exceptionally well-preserved specimens were recovered". 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.

Example of a 201-million- year-old serrated hollow scale derived from a proboscid-bearing moth, providing evidence for an early Mesozoic evolution of the Glossata, refuting their ancestral relationship with flowering plants. Size of the scale bar is 1 cm. "That creates this problem", said Mr. van Eldijk.

The scales may also provide insight into the early evolution of the insect's tubelike tongue, or proboscis, which the authors suggest evolved tens of millions of years before nectar-rich flowers existed.


Lepidopterans' evolutionary history has been murky to date.

This replaced the chewing mouthparts of their ancestors - a transition that was probably triggered by climate rather than food. The short, simple proboscis in early Lepidoptera also has little to do, he says, "with the coiled proboscis that later evolved to get nectar from deep within a flower".

Due to their make-up, now butterflies and moths can easily adapt to a variety of different conditions spreading to different continents except Antarctica, which indicates how insects might respond to the global warming and answer questions surrounding Lepidoptera's resilience to extinction throughout the years.

Visiting a colleague in Germany in 2012, Boston College Research Professor Paul K. Strother was examining soil samples for pollen, spores, pieces of plants and insect legs - organic debris that might otherwise have been considered "pond scum" when it was trapped in sediment during cataclysmic earth events 200 million years ago.

"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".


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