We recently learned that the monarch butterfly uses two types of compass to navigate: the sun and the Earth's magnetic field. Neat trick! In honor of that wondrous discovery, let's take a look at more butterflies. They deserve, and clearly crave, the extra attention. Here, monarch butterflies hang in a cluster from a Eucalyptus tree branch in Pismo Beach, Calif. Unlike human cars, the monarch's GPS system comes installed for the low price of free.Monarch Butterflies Use Magnetic Field to Navigate
This great spangled fritillary seems to want to upstage the flower it's resting on. You can find it all across North America. It likes moist places and spending time on the outskirts of wooded areas.New Olive-Eyed Butterfly Can't Fool Around
This blue-and-black little show-off has a rather epic name,
. This one is hanging out in Papua New Guinea's Morobe province.Insect Soup on Menu at Speedy DNA Cafe
Halloween anyone? If this banded orange butterfly suddenly says "Trick or Treat?" we're all going to have to rethink some things about the butterfly. Its native range is Brazil and central Mexico.PHOTOS: Faces of Bees, Flies and Friends
A knight butterfly sits on a leaf, just because it can.PHOTOS: Bugs Make Art
Yep. Exactly what it looks like. You didn't think creatures this pretty would go without mates, did you?
This clouded yellow butterfly, a.k.a.
to the classification crowd, enjoys the color enough to sit on some more of it. Narcissistic much?Don't Move a Monarch Butterfly, It Could Get Lost
The tailed flambeau butterfly,
, just wishes it could find a pumpkin to land on.
This critter on a patch of moss just likes to blend in and look at us with what looks like a huge, extra eye! It doesn't know how rude it is to stare.PHOTOS: Caterpillar to Butterfly in 3D
Meet the emerald swallowtail butterfly,
, caught in flight thanks to high-speed photography.
This blue pansy butterfly,
, rests comfortably on the wing feathers of a grey peacock pheasant. It would have been right at home in the hippie generation.Butterflies Inspire Ultra-Waterproof Materials
Scientists have discovered an insect that went extinct for more than 120 million years and featured many of the traits associated with modern butterflies including markings on the wing called eye spots.
Known as Kalligrammatid lacewings, paleobotanists for the past century have known they lived in Eurasia during the Mesozoic. But it’s taken recent discoveries of well-preserved fossils from two sites in northeastern China to demonstrate how similar they were to modern butterflies. Thanks to extensive lakes that limited oxygen exposure in these areas during mid-Jurassic through early Cretaceous time, paleontologists have been able to recover exquisitely preserved fossils that retain much of their original structure.
“Poor preservation of lacewing fossils had always stymied attempts to conduct a detailed morphological and ecological examination of the kalligrammatid,” Indiana University’s David Dilcher, who was part of the team that made the discovery published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, said in a statement. “Upon examining these new fossils, however, we’ve unraveled a surprisingly wide array of physical and ecological similarities between the fossil species and modern butterflies, which shared a common ancestor 320 million years ago.”
Dilcher, who also discovered the first flower last year, found that this insect from the Jurassic period survived in a manner similar their modern sister insects by visiting plants with “flower-like” reproductive organs producing nectar and pollen. They probably used their long tongues to probe nectar deep within the plant and also possessed hairy legs that allowed for carrying pollen from the male flower-like reproductive organs of one plant to the flower-like female reproductive organs of another.
Eventually, this system of pollination by long-tongued lacewings traveling between plants with exposed reproductive parts - called gymnosperms – gave way to more familiar system of insect pollinators and modern flowers, or angiosperms, in which the reproductive parts of the plants are contained with a protective seed.
This butterfly-like behavior is striking considering that modern butterflies didn’t appear on Earth for another 50 million years.
It is an example of what scientists call convergent evolution where two distantly related animals develop similar characteristics independently. In this case, the butterfly-like insect is an extinct “lacewing” of the genus kalligrammatid called Oregramma illecebrosa. Another genus of this insect – of the order Neuroptera – live on today and are commonly known as fishflies, owlflies or snakeflies.
“Here, we’ve got coevolution of plants with these animals due to their feeding behavior, and we’ve got coevolution of the lacewings and their predators,” Dilcher said. It’s building a web of life that is more and more complex.”
The researchers, which also included Conrad Labandeira, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, and Dong Ren of Capital Normal University in Beijing, China, where the fossils are housed, found that the Kalligrammatid lacewings probably were important pollinators during mid-Mesozoic times.
“Various features of the mouthparts all indicate that these things were sucking fluids from the reproductive structures of gymnosperm plants,” Labandeira said in a statement, of a finding that was confirmed by an analysis of material lingering within the food tube of one fossil, which was found to contain only carbon. Had the insect been feeding on blood, its final meal would have left traces of iron.
Researchers were also able to find the presence of scales on wings and mouthparts, which, like the scales on modern butterflies, likely contained pigments that gave the insects vibrant colors. Based on similarities between Kalligrammatid wing patterns and those found on modern nymphalid butterflies (a group that includes red admirals and painted ladies), Labandeira said Kalligrammatids might have been decorated with red or orange hues.
From there, researchers did a chemical composition of various regions of the Kalligrammatid’s patterned wings including the eyespots. In modern butterflies with eyespots such as the modern owl butterfly, the dark center of the mark is formed by a concentration of the pigment melanin. It seems the Kalligrammatids, too, had melanin at the center of their eyespots.
“That, in turn, suggests that the two groups of insects share a genetic program for eyespot production,” Labandeira said. “The last common ancestor of these insects lived about 320 million years ago, deep in the Paleozoic. So we think this must be a developmental mechanism that goes all the way back to the origins of winged insects.”
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