Evolutionary history of butterflies and moths

Researchers report a dated evolutionary tree for butterflies and moths. Butterflies and moths, which constitute the insect order Lepidoptera, are thought to have coevolved with flowering plants and echolocating bats, respectively, but this hypothesis has not been tested due to the lack of a sufficiently robust dated evolutionary tree for Lepidoptera. Akito Kawahara and colleagues developed such a tree using more than 2,000 protein-coding gene sequences from 186 extant Lepidopteran species and calibrated the timing of various radiations using a set of carefully evaluated fossils. The results indicate that the most recent common ancestor of all extant Lepidoptera dates to the late Carboniferous period, approximately 300 million years ago, considerably earlier than hypothesized. The nectar-feeding proboscis, a feature thought to have promoted butterfly and moth diversification, appeared approximately 240 million years ago in the Middle Triassic period, coincident with the likely diversification period of flowering plants. The authors identified multiple separate origins of hearing organs in nocturnal moths, several of which predate the emergence of echolocating bats by millions of years. The results support the hypothesis that Lepidoptera diversified concurrently with flowering plants, but do not support the hypothesis that moth hearing organs evolved in response to echolocating bats, according to the authors.

Article #19-07847: “Phylogenomics reveals the evolutionary timing and pattern of butterflies and moths,” by Akito Y. Kawahara et al.

MEDIA CONTACT: Akito Y. Kawahara, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL; tel: 352-273-2018, 301-404-0668; e-mail:



This part of information is sourced from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-10/potn-eho101619.php

Akito Y. Kawahara

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