Newly discovered fossils show that moths and butterflies have been on the planet for at least 200 million years.
Scientists found fossilised butterfly scales the size of a speck of dust inside ancient rock from Germany.
The find pushes back the date for the origins of the Lepidoptera, one of the most prized and studied insect groups.
Researchers say they can learn more about the conservation of butterflies and moths by studying their early evolution.
They used acid to dissolve ancient rocks, leaving behind small fragments, including “perfectly preserved” scales that covered the wings of early moths and butterflies.
“We found the microscopic remains of these organisms in the form of these scales,” said Dr Bas van de Schootbrugge from Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
Intriguingly, they show that some of the moths and butterflies belonged to a group still alive today that have long straw-like tongues for sucking up nectar.