Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Discovery of 'Jurassic butterflies'


Date: February 3, 2016
Source: Indiana University

IU paleobotanist David Dilcher is a co-author on a study out today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society: B that identifies a Jurassic age insect whose behavior and appearance closely mimic a butterfly -- but whose emergence on Earth predates the butterfly by about 40 million years.

Dilcher -- who made international headlines last year for his role in discovering the mythical "first flower" -- said these proverbial "first butterflies" survived in a similar manner as their modern sister insects by visiting plants with "flower-like" reproductive organs producing nectar and pollen.

The butterfly-like insects, which went on to evolve into a different form of insect from the modern butterfly, is an extinct "lacewing" of the genus kalligrammatid called Oregramma illecebrosa. Another genus of this insect -- of the order Neuroptera -- survives into our modern era, and are commonly known as fishflies, owlflies or snakeflies. 

The discovery of the insect was made possible by the examination of well-preserved fossils recently recovered from ancient lake deposits in northeastern China and eastern Kazakhstan. The study was led by Conrad Labandeira, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, and Dong Ren of Capital Normal University in Beijing, China, where the fossils are housed.

"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. "



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