Dinosaur age butterflies’ colours, new research

This video says aout itself:

5 February 2016

If you traveled back to the Jurassic, you might encounter the familiar sight of butterflies sipping nectar – only the insects wouldn’t be butterflies.

From the University of Exeter in England:

Fossil study sheds light on ancient butterfly wing colors

April 11, 2018

Pioneering new research has given an illuminating new insight into the metallic, iridescent colours found on the earliest known ancestors of moths and butterflies, which habited the earth almost 200 million years ago.

An international team of researchers, including Dr Tim Starkey from the University of Exeter, have discovered new evidence for colour in Mesozoic fossils.

The structural colours of the fossils studied resulted from light scattering by intricate microstructures, extending the evidence for these light-scattering structures in the insect fossil record by more than 130 million years.

The research team examined fossilised remains dating back 180 million years, with some specimens originating from the Jurassic Coast, only a short distance from Exeter.

Using powerful electron microscopes and using optical models, the team found microscopic ridges and grooves in the insect’s wing scales, similar to those seen in today’s moths. Models revealed these tiny features are photonic structures that would have produced metallic bronze to golden colour appearances in the insect wings.

The research is published in leading journal Science Advances on Wednesday, April 11 2018.

Insects have evolved an amazing range of photonic structures that can produce iridescence, metallic colours, and other flashy effects that are important for behaviour and ecological functions.

Dr Starkey, part of Exeter’s Physics and Astronomy department, said: “The structural colours exhibited by butterflies and moths have been a longstanding research interest in Exeter, and have helped us develop biologically-inspired optical technologies for the present day.

“However, in this study we’ve looked millions of years back in time to early origins of such colours in nature, to understand how and when the evolution of colours in these insects took place.”

The study was co-authored by palaeontologists Drs Maria McNamara and Luke McDonald from UCC, in Ireland. Dr McNamara added: “Remarkably, these fossils are among the oldest known representatives of butterflies and moths.

“We didn’t expect to find wing scales preserved, let alone microscopic structures that produce colour. This tells us that colour was an important driving force in shaping the evolution of wings even in the earliest ancestors of butterflies and moths.”

Dr McDonald, previously of the Natural Photonics group in Exeter, said; “Uniquely in this study, we show that impression fossils, i.e. wing prints, are equally as capable as compression fossils at preserving the structure of scales in sufficient detail to elucidate the moths’ 180 million year old colours.”

Colorful moth wings date back to the dinosaur era. New fossils reveal the structure of the ancient insects’ light-scattering scales. By Laurel Hamers, 2:14pm, April 11, 2018.


New butterfly species discovered in Mexico

After collecting the new species as a 17-year-old in Mexico nearly 60 years ago, Thomas Emmel described the butterfly as 'medium-sized, velvety brown with row of odd-shaped blue ocelli on hind wings, underside very colorful with bands.' Credit: Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

From the Florida Museum of Natural History in the USA:

New butterfly species discovered nearly 60 years after it was first collected

McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity Founding Director Thomas Emmel netted butterfly in Mexico when he was 17

April 5, 2018

Summary: A butterfly collected by a teenager in Mexico nearly 60 years ago has been described as a new species.

In 1959, a then-teenage lepidopterist Thomas Emmel collected 13 fawn-colored butterflies in the highlands of Mexico.

Nearly 60 years later, those butterflies are finally being recognized as a new species by his colleague Andrew Warren, who named the butterfly Cyllopsis tomemmeli to honor Emmel, now 76 and an internationally recognized Lepidoptera expert at the University of Florida.

It’s a fitting tribute to a dedicated scientist and his lifetime devotion to understanding butterflies and sharing his knowledge and passion with the world.

“He’s the only person who ever collected it, and it was on this remarkable expedition when he was 17 years old”, said Warren, senior collections manager of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at UF.

Warren and a team of colleagues published the species name and description today in Zootaxa.

Back to 1959: Emmel nabbed the specimens on a three-month expedition through southern Mexico and British Honduras, where he accompanied ornithologist L. Irby Davis to record bird songs. Davis had offered him a simple deal: If Emmel would manage the parabolic reflector at dawn and dusk, he could spend the rest of his time collecting butterflies, his primary interest.

By the end of the trip, Emmel had collected several thousand specimens, including the nine male and four female Cyllopsis tomemmeli he netted at the edge of a pine-oak forest in Chiapas, a state on the Mexico-Guatemala border. At the time, he knew only that they were satyrs, describing them in his notebook as “medium-sized, velvety brown with row of odd-shaped blue ocelli on hind wings, underside very colorful with bands.”

The satyrs traveled with Emmel, founding director of the McGuire Center, for decades and through several cross-country moves before finally landing at the center on the UF campus. Grouped with other unsorted Cyllopsis butterflies, they garnered little attention until last fall, when Warren recognized them as an undescribed species.

That’s when serendipity stepped in.

“I pulled out that drawer and immediately thought, ‘That’s new,'” Warren said. “I went upstairs to Tom’s office and said, ‘Hey, what were you doing on March 26, 1959?’ Tom said, ‘Oh, well, it was a beautiful sunny morning. I was in the highlands of Chiapas.'”

A few days later, Emmel was at the Xerox machine, copying the detailed field notes he’d taken on the satyrs in 1959.

Naming the species after Emmel was a natural choice, Warren said.

Although other scientists have scouted the same Mexican highlands, no other Cyllopsis tomemmeli specimens are known besides Emmel’s.

His legacy also includes his mentorship of countless professional and amateur lepidopterists, including Warren, who was a high school butterfly enthusiast when he first met Emmel at a summer butterfly biology workshop.

“He has supported me in my research in various ways ever since,” Warren said. “He’s inspired a lot of people over the years, not just in Lepidoptera but in a lot of fields. He also founded the only institution in the world that’s solely dedicated to butterfly and moth research. That was Tom’s big vision, and he made it happen.”

Cyllopsis tomemmeli rounds out the total known species of Cyllopsis butterflies to 30. Cyllopsis are adept at carving out a home in small pockets of habitat, which could explain why this species has not been rediscovered, Warren said.

The butterfly is about 2 inches wide and dusky brown with jagged red-brown bands on the underside, a characteristic feature of Cyllopsis species. Also notable are two pairs of spots flanked by lines of metallic scales that Warren thinks mimic the eyes and legs of jumping spiders.

Females are slightly paler than males, and male Cyllopsis tomemmeli have furry scales, likely scent distributors, Warren said.

By the time Emmel traveled to Chiapas, he had already been studying and collecting butterflies for nearly a decade. He was 8 years old when his father made butterfly nets for him and his brother John, unsuspectingly launching a lifelong obsession for both.

“He thought we would be interested,” Emmel said. “To his great surprise, and eventually regret, it consumed us as a hobby and finally became a profession for me and a continued avocation for my brother.”

Emmel said Cyllopsis tomemmeli, a new species hiding in plain sight, is an example of the value of museum collections.

“The fact that something can be preserved for future students and professional people to study at a time when new techniques are available to verify the discovery is very important,” he said. “It shows just how long specimens can be preserved, hundreds of years in a museum, and still be invaluable to understanding the changes that have occurred. Climatic change, pesticides, heavy metal pollution in the air — all that is recorded in the wings and bodies of butterflies.”

Study co-authors are Shinichi Nakahara of the Florida Museum and the UF department of entomology and nematology, Jorge Llorente-Bousquets and Armando Luis-Martínez of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Jacqueline Miller of the Florida Museum.

Nakahara is supported by funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Wild boar help rare butterflies

This video from Britain is called Grizzled Skipper. Pyrgus malvae (taras) Cornwall 2015.

Wild boar help birds like robins in winter. Now, it turns out they also help butterflies like grizzled skippers.

Translated from Nature Today in the Netherlands:

29 JANUARY 2018 – Wild boar do not have a good reputation everywhere. They can disturb much grassland. But that disturbance can also have its good sides. In De Hoge Veluwe National Park it has been found that the caterpillars of the endangered grizzled skipper butterfly can be found at sites where boar have been digging. So, these pigs are good for the grizzled skipper butterfly.

Oldest butterflies discovered, when there were dinosaurs, no flowers yet

This video from Chicago in the USA says about itself:

Moths vs Butterflies

9 October 2013

Wherein we explore the order Lepidoptera!

Huge thanks to Jim Boone, collection manager of insects for making this episode possible.

You can learn more about The Field Museum’s historical butterfly collection from J. Boone: here.

From Science Advances:

A Triassic-Jurassic window into the evolution of Lepidoptera

10 Jan 2018


On the basis of an assemblage of fossilized wing scales recovered from latest Triassic and earliest Jurassic sediments from northern Germany, we provide the earliest evidence for Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies).

The diverse scales confirm a (Late) Triassic radiation of lepidopteran lineages, including the divergence of the Glossata, the clade that comprises the vast multitude of extant moths and butterflies that have a sucking proboscis. The microfossils extend the minimum calibrated age of glossatan moths by ca. 70 million years, refuting ancestral association of the group with flowering plants.

Development of the proboscis may be regarded as an adaptive innovation to sucking free liquids for maintaining the insect’s water balance under arid conditions. Pollination drops secreted by a variety of Mesozoic gymnosperms may have been non-mutualistically exploited as a high-energy liquid source. The early evolution of the Lepidoptera was probably not severely interrupted by the end-Triassic biotic crisis.

New blue butterfly species discovery in Russia

The newly discovered South Russian blue butterfly. Credit: Vladimir Lukhtanov

From ScienceDaily:

New butterfly species discovered in Russia with an unusual set of 46 chromosomes

November 27, 2017

Summary: Finding a new species is a rare event in easy-to-see and well-studied organisms like butterflies, especially if they inhabit well-explored areas such as Europe. Researchers have now discovered the previously unknown South-Russian blue using an array of modern research techniques. Furthermore, the new species was found to possess 46 chromosomes, just like a human, whereas its closest relative has 68 chromosomes.

What looked like a population of a common butterfly species turned out to be a whole new organism, and, moreover — one with a very peculiar genome organisation.

Discovered by Vladimir Lukhhtanov, entomologist and evolutionary biologist at the Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Alexander Dantchenko, entomologist and chemist at the Moscow State University, the startling discovery was named South-Russian blue (Polyommatus australorossicus). It was found flying over the northern slopes of the Caucasus mountains in southern Russia. The study is published in the open access journal Comparative Cytogenetics.

“This publication is the long-awaited completion of a twenty-year history,” says Vladimir Lukhtanov.

In the mid-nineties, Vladimir Lukhtanov, together with his students and collaborators, started an exhaustive study of Russian butterflies using an array of modern and traditional research techniques. In 1997, Alexander Dantchenko who was mostly focused on butterfly ecology, sampled a few blue butterfly specimens from northern slopes of the Caucasus mountains. These blues looked typical at first glance and were identified as Azerbaijani blue (Polyommatus aserbeidschanus).

However, when the scientists looked at them under a microscope, it became clear that they had 46 chromosomes — a very unusual number for this group of the blue butterflies and exactly the same count as in humans.

Having spent twenty years studying the chromosomes of more than a hundred blue butterfly species and sequencing DNA from all closely related species, the researchers were ready to ascertain the uniqueness of the discovered butterfly and its chromosome set.

Throughout the years of investigation, it has become clear that caterpillars of genetically related species in the studied butterfly group feed on different, but similar plants. This discovery enables entomologists to not only discover new butterfly species with the help of botanic information, but also protect them.

“We are proud of our research,” says Vladimir Lukhtanov. “It contributes greatly to both the study of biodiversity and understanding the mechanisms of biological evolution.”

Butterfly, springbok are photo contest winners

Butterfly leaves chrysalis, photo by Mascha van Lynden tot Oldenaller / National Geographic

This photo, by Ms Mascha van Lynden tot Oldenaller, shows a butterfly leaving its chrysalis behind. It is the overall winner of this year’s photo contest of the Dutch edition of National Geographic.

Springbok, photo by Bart Michiels / National Geographic

This photo by Bart Michiels of a drinking springbok won the audience prize in the Animals category.