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Meet the butterflies from 200 million years ago

From BBC - January 10, 2018

Newly discovered fossils show that moths and butterflies have been on the planet for at least 200 million years.

Scientists found fossilised butterfly scales the size of a speck of dust inside ancient rock from Germany.

The find pushes back the date for the origins of the Lepidoptera, one of the most prized and studied insect groups.

Researchers say they can learn more about the conservation of butterflies and moths by studying their early evolution.

They used acid to dissolve ancient rocks, leaving behind small fragments, including "perfectly preserved" scales that covered the wings of early moths and butterflies.

"We found the microscopic remains of these organisms in the form of these scales," said Dr Bas van de Schootbrugge from Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Intriguingly, they show that some of the moths and butterflies belonged to a group still alive today that have long straw-like tongues for sucking up nectar.

"These finds push back the evolution of this group with proboscises - with a tongue - by about 70 million years," said Dr van de Schootbrugge.

"Our finds show that the group that was supposed to co-evolve with flowers is actually much older."

The Jurassic was a world dominated by gymnosperm plants, such as conifers, which produced sugary nectar to capture pollen from the air. The primitive insects may have fed on this nectar, before flowering plants came along around 130 million years ago.

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