It was a long, long time ago: About 100 million years ago, some moths switched from night to day and began to fly in the sunlight – and that’s where all butterflies evolved. A team of scientists (part of them from the University of Florida in the US) got together almost ten years ago to find out where those first butterflies appeared and took flight. Answer: It is where North and Central America is today.
“We don’t know what this first butterfly looked like, but we speculate that it may have been found in North and Central America and that it may have fed on legumes,” said Akito Y., lead author of the study. Kawahara explains to Azul. Email. The findings were published Monday in the journal Science Natural Ecology & Evolution.
200 million years ago, the supercontinent Pangea (which is now Eurasia, the Americas, Africa, Antarctica, Australia and India) separated to form other supercontinents, including Laurasia – which includes present-day North America and Central America and Eurasia. This region is now separated from South America by sea. In light of the theory of plate tectonics and continental drift, these supercontinents gradually fragmented into the continental structure we have today.
After some moths began to develop into butterflies, they spread around the world. Butterflies reached India, though it was an isolated island at the time, in what is today Australia, and would later become Antarctica. “Butterflies may have lived in Antarctica when temperatures were higher and moved to Australia before the two continents separated,” says a report accompanying the study.
The history described in the study shows that some butterflies have spread around the world, while others have stayed in the same area. “Continents, mountains and rivers were standing still while they moved around them”, the statement poetically states.
Arrival in Europe
Only after about 45 million years in East Asia (not much) did these insects decide to migrate to Europe. Scientists have not been able to identify the cause of this “pause,” but its effects persist to this day. “Compared to the rest of the world, Europe doesn’t have many species of butterflies,” explained Akito Kawahara. “Many butterflies found in Europe are also found in Siberia and Asia, for example.” According to the study, the first arrivals in Europe were the ancestors of butterflies. NimbaliniIncluding butterflies Aklais, Nimbalis This is Polygon.
Currently, There are more than 18,000 species of butterflies worldwide (diurnal; there are over 180,000 nocturnal butterflies), but Europe has only 500 species of diurnal butterflies and 10,000 nocturnal butterflies. In Portugal, there are about 140 diurnal species (and 2600 species of moths).
The analysis shows that the appearance of these colorful insects occurred about 100 million years ago and that all butterfly families (with only one exception) existed before the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) Great Extinction. The researchers say that butterflies must have followed the example of bees, which are thought to have appeared around 125 million years ago. Because bees can see colors (except red), they allow plants to produce colorful flowers because bees pollinate insects and help plants reproduce. “We think this led to the evolution of flower color,” explains Akito Kawahara. “Some of the diurnal moths took advantage of this opportunity [podendo alimentar-se de néctar] — and turned into butterflies.”
For this analysis, the researchers used butterfly DNA, “obtained from specimens in museums around the world,” says Akito Kawahara, a researcher and curator at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera. BiodiversityIn Florida.
Then, they used the fossils to determine when butterflies evolved and compared the trajectory between butterflies that exist today and those that existed millions of years ago. “Without the 11 rare butterfly fossils, the analysis would not have been possible,” the study’s report says. Because their wings are thin and fragile, fossils of butterflies are rare.
The team of researchers sequenced 391 genes (analyzing more than 161,000 nucleotides and 53,000 amino acids) in about 2,300 species (equivalent to 92% of their genus) to “reconstruct the phylogenetic tree” of butterflies. From this graphical tree, they were able to infer times Evolutionary processes and their biogeographic history.
“It was a huge effort to do this study with the help of around 100 scientists. We used four supercomputers at four institutions, which were necessary to complete the calculations,” entomologist Akito Kawahara also told Azul. He is no stranger to butterflies. “It was a childhood dream,” said the study’s lead author. “I caught my first butterfly when I was a kid, and since then I’ve always had a fascination with butterflies and how they evolved.”
Scientists used information in books, decades old and in many languages, to find out which plants harbor butterflies and feed on them. It is important to know what the current distribution is and what plants they are in order to trace the history back to 100 million years ago.
“Although butterflies are one of the most studied groups of insects, their evolutionary history and the factors behind their diversification are poorly studied,” says the study, published Monday. Now this The work provides “robust” data for future investigations into insects – particularly butterflies, which are a reflection of biodiversity and increasingly threatened. Climate change.
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