Evolution of Butterflies and Moths

There are very few fossil specimens of butterflies and moths. This is possibly due to their fragile bodies, or that they didn’t inhabit regions that were conducive to fossilisation.

The earliest known lepidopteran fossil is from the Jurassic, about 190 million years ago in Dorset, UK. The fossil belongs to a small primitive moth-like species, and its wings are showing scales with parallel grooves under a scanning electron microscope and a characteristic wing venation pattern shared with Caddisflies.

Only two more sets of Jurassic lepidopteran fossils have been found, as well as 13 sets from the Cretaceous, which all belong to primitive moth-like families. Many more fossils are found from the Tertiary, and particularly the Eocene Baltic amber.

The oldest genuine butterflies of the superfamily Papilionoidea have been found in Denmark. The best preserved fossil lepidopteran is the Eocene from the Florissant Fossil Beds.

butterflies and moths

Evolutionary Tree of Life