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Researchers have discovered fossil remains of butterflies in Lower Saxony. The fund allows new conclusions about the evolution of this insect order.

Fossils: Butterflies have been around for at least 201 million years

Researchers have discovered fossil remains of butterflies in Lower Saxony. The fund allows new conclusions about the evolution of this insect order.

Fossils: Butterflies have been around for at least 201 million years

Researchers have found oldest fossil remnants of butterflies so far. The wing and body scales discovered in Lower Saxony are at least 201 million years old. This was shared by Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart. A research team of University of Utrecht is responsible for fund. The study, written jointly with scientists from USA and Germany, was published in science Advances and is freely available.

The researchers discovered fossil remains at a borehole in North German village of Schandelah. They are "earliest proof for Lepidoptera," said studies first author Timo von Eldijk. Lepidoptera is scientific name for butterflies.

The discovery leads to a new understanding of evolutionary history of butterflies and ir ability to survive ecological catastrophes, said von Eldijk. The sediments in which scales are bordered, according to researchers, come from a geological period around transition from Triassic to Jura. At that time, supercontinent of Pangaea was dissolved, causing massive volcanic eruptions. Many species that had dominated Triassic died at that time on land and water – but apparently not butterflies. On contrary, Lepidoptera could have even benefited from new conditions, it was said by researchers. Many new species were created in following years.

Butterfly fossils significantly older than fossils of flowering plants

The study shows how dramatic greenhouse effects have affected insects and ir evolution, said von Eldijk. These findings could help to better understand response of insects to climate change today.

In addition, study provides an indication of current assumption among scientists that evolution of butterflies and flowering plants is closely linked. The discovered butterfly fossils are more than 70 million years older than oldest fossils of flowering plants. The Darmstadt Paläoentomologe and co-author of study, Torsten Wappler said: "The beginning of evolution of butterflies can probably be associated with angiosperms." These include, for example, coniferous plants and palm ferns.

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