A butterfly-like insect that lived about forty million years ago (in the Jurassic period) was found in China, but even though it looks like the modern winged creature, it actually existed long before butterflies came along, according to researchers.
The insects (extinct lacewings) – discovered in ancient lake deposits in north-eastern China – are part of the genus kalligrammatid known as Oregramma illecebrosa. An existing genus of that lineage that exists nowadays includes: owlflies (dragonfly-like insects), fishflies (members of the subfamily Chauliodinae), and snakeflies (a group of insects comprising the order Raphidioptera).
The ancient insect has a circular marking on its wing that resembles an eye – although it is only distantly related to modern butterflies, its overall appearance is similar to that of the owl butterfly in the genus Caligo. The newfound lacewings had a similar feeding mechanism as modern-day butterflies: they usually fed on the nectar of plants, according to the researchers.
David Dilcher, co-author of the study and a professor emeritus in the Department of Geological Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, with expertise in Paleontology, Paleoclimatology, and Climatology, said that when he and his colleagues examined the fossils they found that the ancient lacewings had a lot of ecological and physical features similar to modern butterflies.
Both of these insect species actually shared a common ancestor more than three hundred million years ago, Dr. Dilcher said. This phenomenon is known as convergent evolution – the independent evolution of similar characteristics in species of different lineages, Dr. Dilcher explained.
Dong Ren of Capital Normal University in Beijing, and Conrad Labandeira, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History – both leaders of the study – used imaging tools to analyse the fossils that were found in eastern Kazakhstan and north-eastern China.
The researchers looked at mouthparts of the fossilised insects and found remains of pollen and other remains of food, which helped them figure out what the ancient lacewings fed on. The insects had hairy legs to trap the pollen, as well as long tongues, according to researchers.
The new findings were published on Wednesday (Jan. 3) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.
Image Source: smithsonian science