Butterflies are a huge part of culture. From fashion, to art deco, and even in mythology, butterflies always play quite a big part. But what if butterflies were much older than you thought they were? According to a new study from the University of Indiana, Jurassic butterfly strongly resembled its descendants.
40 million year old Oregramma illecebrosa
Living on Earth some 40 million years ago, the modern day butterfly’s ancestor had quite a number of characteristics in common with its descendant. However, it still did its own thing, with the insect’s feeding process being of particular interest.
Found by paleobotanist David Dilcher (also responsible for finding the mythical first flower last year), the lacewing butterfly belonged to the kalligrammatid genus. Both it and three other modern species evolved from a common ancestor of the Neuroptera order.
These evolutionary ancestors, the snakeflies, fishflies and owlflies, are all insects still alive today, and are not to be confused with the owl butterfly, the lacewing butterfly’s direct ancestor.
Other individuals of its genus had been recovered before, but none so well preserved as to establish the connection. These very well preserved fossils were recently discovered in eastern Kazakhstan and in northeast China, only to be taken to be investigated at Beijing’s Capital Normal University.
Lacewing butterfly vs. owl butterfly
Once the scientists did find a better preserved individual, they started finding tons of similarities between it and its modern day counterpart. One interesting difference, however, lay in the way the lacewing butterfly pollinated plants.
The main similarity between the lacewing and the owl butterfly lies in their previously thought unique defense mechanism. The investigators behind it attribute this common defense to the insects 320 million year old ancestor.
The owl butterflies, as well as the lacewings have huge circles on their wings – what specialists refer to as eye spots. This pattern is believed to have emerged over 200 million years ago, and it is a prime example of evolution making the best of it knows has already worked in the past.
Both of the insects have big round spots on their backs, similar to the eyes of a larger predator, meant to scare away predators. Evolution, despite being exquisitely creative, likes using features that were proven useful in the past, especially for species with a common ancestor.
The interesting thing about how the lacewing pollinated is that it had very similar feeding patterns to their descendants, using a long tongue to eat pollen from plants. The pollination, on the other hand, was quite different – Oregramma illecebrosa used its very hairy legs to collect the pollen, which it then spread to other plants.
Image source: Wikimedia