Scientists have discovered the tiny fragments of fossil butterfly scales in more than 200 million-year-old rock cores. A few fossils which are too tiny to identify with the naked eye, have revealed the interesting history of the evolution of moths and butterflies.
The discovery pushes back the timeline of Lepidoptera — an ancient member of the insect order that includes butterflies and moths.
Two palaeontologists used acid to dissolve the rock cores and what they found left them surprised.
"We found the microscopic remains of these organisms in the form of these scales," said Dr Bas van de Schootbrugge from Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
As they further studied the fossils, they found out that some of the insects belonged to the group are still alive today and they do have a long straw-like tongue for sucking up the sugary nectar from the flower.
Dr van de Schootbrugge is quoted saying in a BBC report, "These finds push back the evolution of this group with proboscises - with a tongue - by about 70 million years."
It has also been revealed that the insect order, which is believed to have been co-evolved with flowers, is actually much older. While it is clear that plants did not evolve flowers until 130 million years ago, the butterfly developed its tongue way before that.
"Our finds show that the group that was supposed to co-evolve with flowers is actually much older," said Schootbrugge.
Dr Russell Garwood, another palaeontologist told BBC that the coiled mouthparts were always been assumed to have evolved alongside the flowers that these animals pollinate.
He said, "This new evidence suggests that perhaps the coiled mouthparts had another role, before flowering plants evolved."
Dr Timo van Eldijk, also of Utrecht University, the lead researcher on the study, said The information is "paramount to help us piece together how current manmade climate change might affect insects and their evolution in the future."
Furthermore, the study, which was originally published in the journal Science Advances, hints at the butterfly and moth family used the proboscis for some other purposes. As per the study, the insect group used to feed something different to survive as flowers did not evolve back then.