Ancient Jurassic Butterfly Discovered

Posted: Feb 5 2016, 7:23am CST | by , Updated: Feb 5 2016, 7:29am CST, in News | Latest Science News

Ancient Jurassic Butterfly Discovered
(L)A photo of the modern owl butterfly (Caligo Memnon) shown below a fossilized Kalligrammatid lacewing (Oregramma illecebrosa) shows some of the convergent features including wing eyespots and wing scales. Credit: James Di Loreto / Smithsonian --- (R) A reconstruction of the Kalligrammatid lacewing (Oregramma illecebrosa) consuming pollen drops on a bannettitalean plant (Williamsonia), an ancient plant that lived alongside the lacewing. Artist's rendering: Vichai Malikul, Smithsonian

The discovery of Jurassic butterflies, that lived and thrived in that ancient era of dinosaurs such as Tyranosaurus Rex and Triceratops, has been quite an exciting find.

A paleobotanist named David Dilcher has discovered a Jurassic age insect that closely resembles a modern day butterfly. However, it was there 40 million years before butterflies began roaming the earth.

Dilcher became famous earlier on for discovering Jurassic flowers that bloomed so long ago. Now with his latest discovery of insects, that looked like butterflies and were extant in such bygone times, things have taken a new turn.

These butterflies of the pre-mammalian times often visited the ancient flowers to collect pollen and nectar. However, strange to say, these ancient insects evolved into something other than modern day butterflies.

They became the “lacewings” which are entirely different from the butterfly. Other insects that were offshoots of this age old butterfly include: fishflies, owlflies and snakeflies.

Fossils recovered from China and Kazakhstan showed proof of these species of insects in the far-off past. The fossils are kept in a museum in China. Earlier on poor preservation of lacewing fossils led to a gap in studies regarding the ancient species. But now this is not the case.

"Poor preservation of lacewing fossils had always stymied attempts to conduct a detailed morphological and ecological examination of the kalligrammatid," Dilcher said.

"Upon examining these new fossils, however, we've unraveled a surprisingly wide array of physical and ecological similarities between the fossil species and modern butterflies, which shared a common ancestor 320 million years ago. "

All the modern butterflies seemingly shared a common ancestor that lived 320 million years ago. Once again convergent evolution seems to have shown its magic of having similar organs appear in radically different species.

Two unrelated organisms seem to have developed along similar lines as regards their morphology. This of course was purely in order to adapt to the environmental niches that these species occupied.

A series of plants related to these insects also appeared around the same time in prehistory. These seed-bearing plants were named bennettitales.

The fossilized remains of pollen and plant material in the mouth parts of the insects showed that it was all a symbiotic relationship that flourished many millions of years ago.

The insects used their lengthy tongues to explore the inner parts of the plants and thus sucked the nectar from the plants. As for the hairy legs of the insects, they helped in the collection of the tiny granules of pollen.

The evolutionary journey from lacewings to butterflies and from gymnosperms to angiosperms is a long and convoluted one. Suffice it to say that one thing that remained constant was the eyespots on the wings of these insects.

They served as a warning to predators to remain away. The threatening nature of the eyespots was a form of camouflage that tended to mimic larger species.

The findings of this study were published on Feb. 3 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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