100 Million Years Ago

James Hanlon neotropics at msn.com
Fri May 2 02:37:54 EDT 1997

According to James Scott, the earliest known fossil butterflies are several 
species of Papilionidae (one close to modern Baronia of the Baroniinae), one 
species of Nymphalidae and one species of Lycaenidae (Riodininae), all from 
the Eocene period about 48 million years ago. Many more fossil butterflies 
including various Papilionidae, Pieridae, Nymphalidae, Libytheidae, 
Lycaenidae, and Hesperiidae, according to Scott, are known from the Lower 
Oligocene period 38 million years ago. All of the modern butterfly families 
are thus known to have evolved fully by this time, but according to Scott 
probably by much earlier (perhaps 100-80 million years ago). 

Also according to Scott, the oldest known lepidopteran fossils are several 
moths from Lebanon that lived about 120 million years ago. There are some 
wings that fossilized some 280, 260 and 220 million years ago but they could 
be either Lepidoptera or Trichoptera. I wonder what primitive men/women 
thought about the butterflies that crossed their paths. They probably didn't 
think that much different about them then most people do today. Just an 
amusing and pretty part of the atmosphere. But surely there must have been one 
or two curious minded apemen or apewomen that stopped for even just a few 
seconds to do a double take look at a butterfly in flight, mating or necturing 
perhaps. He or she probably scratched the top of their head out of slight 
curiosity and hence the beginnings of the first lepidopterist.
Rain Forest Energy!

Jim Hanlon

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