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Incredible Gold Metallic Colors Of Ancient Butterfly Ancestors That Lived Alongside Dinosaurs Are Revealed For The First Time

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The beautiful gold metallic colors of the earliest known ancestors of moths and butterflies have been revealed for the first time.

Some of these creatures – now preserved in amber – inhabited the planet alongside dinosaurs as long as 200 million years ago.

Researchers found the structural colors of the fossils resulted from intricate light scattering, or photonic, microstructures.

This finding pushes back evidence for such light-scattering structures in the insect fossil record by more than 130 million years.

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

His team used powerful electron microscopes to detect tiny ridges and grooves in the insect’s wing scales, similar to those seen in today’s moths.




Optical models revealed these tiny features are photonic structures that would have produced metallic bronze to golden color appearances in the insects’ wings.

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.

They 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 fossils studied are among the oldest known representatives of butterflies and moths.

Some specimens that originate from England’s Jurassic Coast date back 195 million years.

Insects have evolved an amazing range of photonic structures, experts say.

They can produce iridescence, metallic colours, and other flashy effects that are important for behaviour and ecological functions.

The fossils studied are among the oldest known representatives of butterflies and moths.

Some specimens that originate from England’s Jurassic Coast date back 195 million years.

Insects have evolved an amazing range of photonic structures, experts say.

They can produce iridescence, metallic colours, and other flashy effects that are important for behaviour and ecological functions.

However, researchers say they were surprised to find wing scales preserved, let alone microscopic structures that produce color.

They say this tells us color was an important driving force in shaping the evolution of wings even in the earliest ancestors of butterflies and moths.

Luke McDonald from University College Cork added: “Uniquely in this study, we show that impression fossils 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.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Science Advances.

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