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.
Fossilized scales of moths and butterflies from a drilled core in Germany.
About 200 million years ago, an ancient member of the insect order Lepidoptera, which includes butterflies and moths, flew among dinosaurs. There they dissolved cores dating to the late Triassic and early Jurassic periods by exposing the material to a nasty acid. Resistant organic material. Insect legs.
What grabbed Strother's attention were infinitesimally tiny scales. However, butterflies and moth scales are present in there.
While studying fossil cores dating to the late Triassic and early Jurassic periods, an worldwide team of researchers discovered the fossilized remains of the tiny scales that coat the bodies of butterflies and moths. While scales of butterflies have vivid colors, both butterflies and moths can avoid spider webs thanks to their scales. Some mosquitoes and flies have scales, too.
After about a year, Strother found himself seated next to Torsten Wappler, a University of Bonn scientist who specializes in extinct insects.
He said: "The microfossils extend the minimum calibrated age of glossatan moths by about 70 million years - refuting ancestral association of the group with flowering plants". If you want to do this on a larger time scale, it's going to be a lot of work.
"The nose hair has just the right length and springiness for getting a pollen grain, or in this case the butterfly scale, to adhere to it", Mr. van Eldijk said.
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"This is the old-fashioned science of discovery", said Strother. He embedded the dust in a mixture of glycerol and water. Van Eldijk got around 70 such scales from the ancient German soil. But there was another discovery: a different type of scales, which was hollow.
Van Eldijk conducted a study on 70 scales that were discovered from the stone and then examine the structure of those 70 scales. They also had mandibles for chewing food. And these younger moths and butterflies also grew proboscises: long sucking tubes for drinking plant nectar that curled like insane straws beneath their heads.
It has also been revealed that the insect order, which is believed to have been co-evolved with flowers, is actually much older. The more intricate the flower's nectar spur, the more intricate the insect slurper became. "Good heavens, what insect can suck it?"
"The findings also suggest that the end-Triassic mass-extinction event 201 million years ago has not affected moths and butterflies, the researchers said". "There's two possible scenarios if these [insects] really are pollinators" with proboscises, Strother said. It could also be that the flower fossil record is missing, or that these elongated mouthparts had another objective entirely. Or maybe the proboscis came first - the scenario that the study authors hypothesize is more probable. The best theory is that they were trying to drink pollen from conifer cones. Butterflies had used their tubular mouths to drunk pollen from the pine tree, Eldijk stated.
The earliest known butterfly fossils are from the mid Eocene epoch - between 40-50 million years ago. Some scientists suggest that intense volcanic activity wracked the planet, altering its climate.
"If anything, these butterflies probably profited from the ecological niches left open by vanished species".
The information is "paramount to help us piece together how current manmade climate change might affect insects and their evolution in the future", he said.