Which Came First, Butterflies or Flowering Plants?

Butterflies and moths have a tongue-like proboscis that helps them drink nectar from floral tubes, but it now appears that the proboscis didn’t specifically evolve for that purpose. In fact, a study published in January 2018 in the journal Science Advances asserts that these graceful flyers had proboscises about 70 million years before flowers came into existence. The researchers suggested that proboscis evolution probably occurred to help butterflies and moths slurp up pollination drops produced by gymnosperms, the most widespread group of plants at that time.

In a world without flowers:

  • The researchers looked at the fossilized remains of the tiny scales that covered the bodies of butterflies and moths in the late Triassic and early Jurassic periods.
  • Gymnosperms are flowerless, seed-producing plants -- such as cycads -- that produce sugary droplets that insects use as a high-energy nutritional source.
  • The late Triassic period on Earth was hot and arid, and the insects also may have developed proboscises as an "efficient technique to replenish lost moisture," according to the researchers.
More Info: NPR

Discussion Comments


God created butterflies with a proboscis in place to sip water and to sip nutrients. (Listen to yourselves. Hear what you are saying. You are spouting nonsense). This article is akin to making the statement that man evolved a tongue to lick ice cream from a cone.

Have you never seen a butterfly sipping nutrients from horse feces or from a dead deer laying in a creek? Butterflies sip more than flowers, so try getting out of your own backyard from time to time and step out into the wilds of nature to observe things in their own habitat before putting butterflies on flowers because that is all you have observed in your limited experience out of doors.

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