Scientists have been commenting, for more than a century now, the similarities between kalligrammatid lacewings, a Jurassic period insect that lived 165 million years ago and the modern time butterfly.
Now, thanks to well-preserved fossils found in northeastern China, scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. were able to study the prehistoric animal anatomy and describe it in a study published on Wednesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Smithsonian paleoecologist Conrad Labandeira along with a team of an international collaboration of scientist, which included Indiana University paleobotanist and Capital Normal University in Beijing, China, were able to closely study to kalligrammatid and discovered surprising facts about the creature that actually connect the ancient insect to some modern butterflies’ fact.
“They’ve been known for about 100 years, but in the 1960s there were some specimens that made people say, gosh, these really look like butterflies, but we knew they were unrelated. That’s where it stood for some 55 years,” Labandeira, lead author on the study, told The Washington Post.
Scientist found that some kalligrammatid species bore colorful eyespot patterns on their first pair of wings, which look remarkably like those of the peacock or owl butterflies. Scientists believe these patterns may have helped to distract potential predators beginning as plain, monochromatic wings, but then evolving to solid spots and later into more complex patterns alternating concentric rings of light and dark pigments that looked increasingly like an eye.
The creature appears to have used ubular mouthparts to serve as pollinators, one very similar to the organs butterflies use to partake of fluids found in flowering. The difference will be that kalligrammatid could not take anything from a flower, as there weren’t any nectar-producing flowers existing in its environs.
Scientists are extremely surprise to discover this butterfly-like behavior considering that modern butterflies didn’t appear on Earth for another 50 million years. But scientists say It is an example of what is called convergent evolution where two distantly related animals develop similar characteristics independently.
Labandeira explained this phenomenon is kind of like a baseball team, the positions are the same, but the players are changed. He said it was a different world that these insects were evolving in. So they were serving very similar roles, but they’re completely different.
Source: The Royal Society