Butterflies had a proboscis 70 million years before flowers existed. Image Credit: PD - Richiebits
A fascinating discovery has called in to question everything we know about the evolution of butterflies.
Until now, it was generally accepted that the proboscis - a long, tongue-like mouthpiece used by today's moths and butterflies to reach the nectar inside floral tubes, originally evolved after the emergence of flowers to take advantage of this plentiful new food source.
A new palaeontological discovery however may have cast this theory in to serious doubt.
During a recent study of fossil cores from the late Triassic and early Jurassic, an international team of researchers came across tiny fossilized scales - the type typically found on butterflies and moths.
A more detailed analysis of the find later revealed that these prehistoric butterflies, which date back around 200 million years, also had a proboscis, despite the fact that flowers wouldn't come in to existence for another 70 million years.
The answer, it seems, is that either flowers emerged much earlier and we have yet to find fossil evidence of this or butterflies and moths evolved a proboscis for some other purpose.
In the case of the latter, one possibility is that the proboscis could have helped them lap up the sugary pollination drops of gymnosperms, a type of plant that was extremely common at the time.
Either way, it seems that the existing theory on the evolution of these insects appears to be wrong.
Source: Smithsonian | Comments (5)