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.
Structural colors are generated by scattering of light by variations in tissue nanostructure. They are widespread among animals and have been studied most extensively in butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), which exhibit the widest diversity of photonic nanostructures, resultant colors, and visual effects of any extant organism. The evolution of structural coloration in lepidopterans, however, is poorly understood. Existing hypotheses based on phylogenetic and/or structural data are controversial and do not incorporate data from fossils. Here we report the first example of structurally colored scales in fossil lepidopterans; specimens are from the 47-million-year-old Messel oil shale (Germany). The preserved colors are generated by a multilayer reflector comprised of a stack of perforated laminae in the scale lumen; differently colored scales differ in their ultrastructure. The original colors were altered during fossilization but are reconstructed based upon preserved ultrastructural detail. The dorsal surface of the forewings was a yellow-green color that probably served as a dual-purpose defensive signal, i.e. aposematic during feeding and cryptic at rest. This visual signal was enhanced by suppression of iridescence (change in hue with viewing angle) achieved via two separate optical mechanisms: extensive perforation, and concave distortion, of the multilayer reflector. The fossils provide the first evidence, to our knowledge, for the function of structural color in fossils and demonstrate the feasibility of reconstructing color in non-metallic lepidopteran fossils. Plastic scale developmental processes and complex optical mechanisms for interspecific signaling had clearly evolved in lepidopterans by the mid-Eocene.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 5 years ago
A near-perfect mimetic association between a mecopteran insect species and a ginkgoalean plant species from the late Middle Jurassic of northeastern China recently has been discovered. The association stems from a case of mixed identity between a particular plant and an insect in the laboratory and the field. This confusion is explained as a case of leaf mimesis, wherein the appearance of the multilobed leaf of Yimaia capituliformis (the ginkgoalean model) was accurately replicated by the wings and abdomen of the cimbrophlebiid Juracimbrophlebia ginkgofolia (the hangingfly mimic). Our results suggest that hangingflies developed leaf mimesis either as an antipredator avoidance device or possibly as a predatory strategy to provide an antiherbivore function for its plant hosts, thus gaining mutual benefit for both the hangingfly and the ginkgo species. This documentation of mimesis is a rare occasion whereby exquisitely preserved, co-occurring fossils occupy a narrow spatiotemporal window that reveal likely reciprocal mechanisms which plants and insects provide mutual defensive support during their preangiospermous evolutionary histories.
The role of bats or any generalist predator in suppressing prey populations depends on the predator’s ability to track and exploit available prey. Using a qPCR fecal DNA assay, we document significant association between numbers of Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) consuming corn earworm (CEW) moths (Helicoverpa zea) and seasonal fluctuations in CEW populations. This result is consistent with earlier research linking the bats' diet to patterns of migration, abundance, and crop infestation by important insect pests. Here we confirm opportunistic feeding on one of the world’s most destructive insects and support model estimates of the bats' ecosystem services. Regression analysis of CEW consumption versus the moth’s abundance at four insect trapping sites further indicates that bats track local abundance of CEW within the regional landscape. Estimates of CEW gene copies in the feces of bats are not associated with seasonal or local patterns of CEW abundance, and results of captive feeding experiments indicate that our qPCR assay does not provide a direct measure of numbers or biomass of prey consumed. Our results support growing evidence for the role of generalist predators, and bats specifically, as agents for biological control and speak to the value of conserving indigenous generalist predators.
Yponomeutoidea, one of the early-diverging lineages of ditrysian Lepidoptera, comprise about 1,800 species worldwide, including notable pests and insect-plant interaction models. Yponomeutoids were one of the earliest lepidopteran clades to evolve external feeding and to extensively colonize herbaceous angiosperms. Despite the group’s economic importance, and its value for tracing early lepidopteran evolution, the biodiversity and phylogeny of Yponomeutoidea have been relatively little studied.
Survey data over the last 100 years indicate that populations of the endemic Hawaiian leafroller moth, Omiodes continuatalis (Wallengren) (Lepidoptera: Crambidae), have declined, and the species is extirpated from large portions of its original range. Declines have been attributed largely to the invasion of non-native parasitoid species into Hawaiian ecosystems. To quantify changes in O. continuatalis distribution, we applied the maximum entropy modeling approach using Maxent. The model referenced historical (1892-1967) and current (2004-2008) survey data, to create predictive habitat suitability maps which illustrate the probability of occurrence of O. continuatalis based on historical data as contrasted with recent survey results. Probability of occurrence is predicted based on the association of biotic (vegetation) and abiotic (proxy of precipitation, proxy of temperature, elevation) environmental factors with 141 recent and historic survey locations, 38 of which O. continuatalis were collected from. Models built from the historical and recent surveys suggest habitat suitable for O. continuatalis has changed significantly over time, decreasing both in quantity and quality. We reference these data to examine the potential effects of non-native parasitoids as a factor in changing habitat suitability and range contraction for O. continuatalis. Synthesis and applications: Our results suggest that the range of O. continuatalis, an endemic Hawaiian species of conservation concern, has shrunk as its environment has degraded. Although few range shifts have been previously demonstrated in insects, such contractions caused by pressure from introduced species may be important factors in insect extinctions.
- Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society
- Published about 2 years ago
Mid-Mesozoic kalligrammatid lacewings (Neuroptera) entered the fossil record 165 million years ago (Ma) and disappeared 45 Ma later. Extant papilionoid butterflies (Lepidoptera) probably originated 80-70 Ma, long after kalligrammatids became extinct. Although poor preservation of kalligrammatid fossils previously prevented their detailed morphological and ecological characterization, we examine new, well-preserved, kalligrammatid fossils from Middle Jurassic and Early Cretaceous sites in northeastern China to unravel a surprising array of similar morphological and ecological features in these two, unrelated clades. We used polarized light and epifluorescence photography, SEM imaging, energy dispersive spectrometry and time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry to examine kalligrammatid fossils and their environment. We mapped the evolution of specific traits onto a kalligrammatid phylogeny and discovered that these extinct lacewings convergently evolved wing eyespots that possibly contained melanin, and wing scales, elongate tubular proboscides, similar feeding styles, and seed-plant associations, similar to butterflies. Long-proboscid kalligrammatid lacewings lived in ecosystems with gymnosperm-insect relationships and likely accessed bennettitalean pollination drops and pollen. This system later was replaced by mid-Cretaceous angiosperms and their insect pollinators.
Plastics are synthetic polymers derived from fossil oil and largely resistant to biodegradation. Polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) represent ∼92% of total plastic production. PE is largely utilized in packaging, representing ∼40% of total demand for plastic products (www.plasticseurope.org) with over a trillion plastic bags used every year . Plastic production has increased exponentially in the past 50 years (Figure S1A in Supplemental Information, published with this article online). In the 27 EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland up to 38% of plastic is discarded in landfills, with the rest utilized for recycling (26%) and energy recovery (36%) via combustion (www.plasticseurope.org), carrying a heavy environmental impact. Therefore, new solutions for plastic degradation are urgently needed. We report the fast bio-degradation of PE by larvae of the wax moth Galleria mellonella, producing ethylene glycol.
Moth-eye nanostructures are a well-known example of biological antireflective surfaces formed by pseudoregular arrays of nipples and are often used as a template for biomimetic materials. Here, we provide morphological characterization of corneal nanostructures of moths from the Bombycidae family, including strains of domesticated Bombyx mori silk-moth, its wild ancestor Bombyx mandarina, and a more distantly related Apatelodes torrefacta. We find high diversification of the nanostructures and strong antireflective properties they provide. Curiously, the nano-dimple pattern of B. mandarina is found to reduce reflectance as efficiently as the nanopillars of A. torrefacta. Access to genome sequence of Bombyx further permitted us to pinpoint corneal proteins, likely contributing to formation of the antireflective nanocoatings. These findings open the door to bioengineering of nanostructures with novel properties, as well as invite industry to expand traditional moth-eye nanocoatings with the alternative ones described here.
Camouflage, and in particular background-matching, is one of the most common anti-predator strategies observed in nature. Animals can improve their match to the colour/pattern of their surroundings through background selection, and/or by plastic colour change. Colour change can occur rapidly (a few seconds), or it may be slow, taking hours to days. Many studies have explored the cues and mechanisms behind rapid colour change, but there is a considerable lack of information about slow colour change in the context of predation: the cues that initiate it, and the range of phenotypes that are produced. Here we show that peppered moth (Biston betularia) larvae respond to colour and luminance of the twigs they rest on, and exhibit a continuous reaction norm of phenotypes. When presented with a heterogeneous environment of mixed twig colours, individual larvae specialise crypsis towards one colour rather than developing an intermediate colour. Flexible colour change in this species has likely evolved in association with wind dispersal and polyphagy, which result in caterpillars settling and feeding in a diverse range of visual environments. This is the first example of visually induced slow colour change in Lepidoptera that has been objectively quantified and measured from the visual perspective of natural predators.