Tiny scales in ancient lagoon may be the first fossil evidence of the moth-butterfly line | Science News

SCIENCE NEWS NEEDS YOU

Support nonprofit journalism

Subscribe now


News

Tiny scales in ancient lagoon may be the first fossil evidence of the moth-butterfly line

Specialized drinking mouthparts might have evolved before the flowers moths now drink from

By
7:00am, January 15, 2018

OLDEST MOTH SCALE  A tiny insect scale from an ancient lagoon (left) may be one of the earliest fossil signs of  the evolutionary branch of moths and butterflies. Comparisons with modern scales (right) identified it.

Newly described little scaly bits could push back the fossil record of the moth-and-butterfly branch on the tree of life by some 70 million years. That raises the question of whether the drinking-straw mouthparts evolved long before the flower nectar many drink today.

The microscopic ridged scales date from roughly 200 million years ago, around the time of one of Earth’s less famous mass extinctions, says fossil-pollen specialist Bas van de Schootbrugge of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. During an unrelated study of ocean oxygen during this dire time, he and his colleagues pulled up cores of sediment in northern Germany near Braunschweig from what had once been a huge lagoon. In the sediment lay mere dots of insect scales.

Comparing the ridges and inner structure of the scales with those from modern insects suggests the fossils came from the evolutionary branch of insects that today gives us moths and butterflies with nectar-sipping mouthparts. No

This article is only available to Science News subscribers. Already a subscriber? Log in now. Or subscribe today for full access.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More Evolution articles

From the Nature Index Paid Content