Scientists have been studying some newly discovered fossils of butterfly scales that are the size of a speck of dust. The fossils were found inside an ancient rock from Germany. The scientists say that the find pushes back the original date of the Lepidoptera, a highly prized and studied group of insects.
Scientists say that the new discovery will allow them to learn more about conservation of butterflies and moths via the study of early evolution. To get the tiny butterfly scales from the rock, the team dissolved the rocks using acid.
This left behind small fragments including what the team describes as the “perfectly preserved” butterfly scales that covered the wings of early moths and butterflies. During the study, the scientists found that the months and butterflies the ancient scales belong to are a group that is still alive today with long straw-like tongues that suck up nectar.
The new find pushes the evolution of the group of insects with this tongue structure by about 70 million years. Previously the insects with that sort of tongue were thought to have evolved along with the plants they feed on.
The team notes that this sort of fossil is rare because butterflies and moths are so fragile. The rock sample was drilled from the ground in Germany near Hanover.