Scientists Discover Jurassic Insect Fossil Resembling Modern Butterflies

Posted on February 3, 2016

Oregramma illecebrosa drawing

Scientists have discovered an ancient Jurassic insect that resembles modern butterflies. The insect predates the butterfly by about 40 million years.

Indiana University paleobotanist David Dilcher says the Jurassic butterfly is an extinct lacewing insect. It belongs to the genus kalligrammatid. The insect has been given the name Oregramma illecebrosa. In the drawing above the insect is pictured consuming pollen drops from bennettitales, an extinct order of plant from the Triassic period. The image below shows a comparison of the fossilized lacewing Oregramma illecebrosa (left) and a modern owl butterfly Calico memnon (right).

Oregramma illecebrosa and Calico memnon comparison


The fossils were recovered from ancient lake deposits in northeastern China and eastern Kazakhstan. The study was led by Conrad Labandeira, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, and Dong Ren of Capital Normal University in Beijing, China.

Dilcher says in a statement, "Poor preservation of lacewing fossils had always stymied attempts to conduct a detailed morphological and ecological examination of the kalligrammatid. 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."

A research paper on the discovery was published here in the journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B..

Drawing: Vichai Malikul
Photo: Conrad C. Labandeira and Jorge Santiago-Blay