Just about every butterfly and moth that has hollow scales today has a proboscis, Mr. van Eldijk said. But van Eldijk was surprised to discover that other scales were hollow-a feature only seen among moths and butterflies with proboscises.
As per the study, the only moths and butterflies having hollow scales are from the Group Glossata which are known to have proboscis. "We're looking at this microscopic world of things that lived hundreds of millions of years ago and we don't know what they are".
Researchers analyzed about 70 scales and scale fragments, mostly wing scales, which were found in a drilled core dating back about 201 million years to the Triassic-Jurassic period in northern Germany.
An global team of scientists led by Timo van Eldijk and Bas van de Schootbrugge from Utrecht University, the Netherlands, found fossil remains of moths and butterflies dating back to over 200 million years ago, making them the oldest known fossils of Lepidoptera - the order of insects to which butterflies and moths belong.
Moths and butterflies belong to an order of insects known as Lepidoptera - distinguished by the scales covering their bodies and wings and a proboscis.
The existence of proboscis in prehistoric butterflies before the existence of the flowering plants strongly indicates that proboscis had some different utility apart from the sucking nectar from flower. The scale bar is 1 centimeter (2.5 inches).
The scales are modified, flattened "hairs" - and give butterflies and moths their extraordinary variety of colours and patterns. Mr. van Eldijk was tasked with fishing out more, and for that job he was given a dissection probe with a single nostril hair.
The team suggested the insects used their tongues to suck up sugary droplets produced by nonflowering plants that made seeds, a group that includes today's pine trees.
The researchers say that they developed a sucking proboscis to find nutrition by drawing off water drops from the tips of immature gymnosperm seeds. But it turns out butterflies were living long before the first flowering plants ever appeared on Earth.
We are used to thinking of butterflies and flowers together, the two living in a symbiotic relationship in which the butterfly helps with pollination in return for nectar from the flowers as nourishment.
Moths and butterflies fluttered around Earth in the Jurassic Period, millions of years earlier than previously thought, even before there were flowers to provide them with nectar for food.
Another is that the early Jurassic and late Triassic era was a very dry and arid time and the proboscis of the butterflies was an 'efficient technique to replenish lost moisture and survive desiccation stress, ' the researchers said in the study.
Due to their make-up, now butterflies and moths can easily adapt to a variety of different conditions spreading to different continents except Antarctica, which indicates how insects might respond to the global warming and answer questions surrounding Lepidoptera's resilience to extinction throughout the years.