N A T U R K U N D L I C H E S   I N F O R M A T I O N S S Y S T E M

Familia: Archaeolepidae Whalley, 1985

(zoological nomenclature: valid name, available)

General information:

Archaeolepidae Whalley, 1985: 159.
Type: Archaeolepis Whalley, 1985: 160.

Synonyms, misspellings, wrong determinations, etc.:


Description of adults: Examined: Original description by Whalley (1985). "Scale-covered wing with prominent forked cubital vein. Vein R1 forked at apex. Scales with longitudinal ridges and few cross-ribs (trabeculae, Imms 1970). Radial vein four-branched; median three-branched."


The family is known from a single wing fragment from the lower Lias (Sinemurian) of Dorset, UK.


Electron micrograph of the scales      
Picture from: © Zessin 2009, modified
Detailed view


Venation of (? hind) wing of Archaeolepis mane Whalley, 1985 Venation of forewing of a Psocoptera Venation of forewing of a Nematocera Venation of forewing of a Trichoptera
Picture from: © Whalley 1985, modified
Detailed view
Picture from: Kurz Michael
Detailed view
Picture from: Kurz Michael
Detailed view
Picture from: Kurz Michael
Detailed view

"The family is separated from the Micropterigidae by the wing venation, particularly the anal veins" (Whalley 1985).

"Psocoptera. This order is known from the Permian and there are two recent families, the Amphientomidae and Lepidopsocidae, which have completely scale-covered wings (Enderlein, 1906). The psocid wing differs from Archaeolepis in venation, with Sc and R not running parallel and Cu unbranched. Some of the scales are toothed at the apex but the underside differs from lepidopterous-type scale with thickened ridges running transversely across the scales. In some of the fossil species of Permopsocus Tillyard, Cu is forked but Sc and R do not run parallel as in Archaeolepis. Thus the fossil Archaeolepis can be ruled out of the Psocoptera.

Diptera. Scales are present on the wing of many nematoceran Diptera and in the Psychodidae the wings are completely clothed with hairs and scales. In most Diptera, the scales, when present, are restricted to the veins although in the Cecidomyiidae the scales may cover the wings. In Psychoda surcoufi Tonnoir the wing is covered with long hair-like scales which are elongate and have a distinctly serrate edge, very similar to the elongate hairs of the Trichoptera. The scales in Archaeolepis are larger and their arrangement on the wing is different from Diptera of comparable size. Comparisons have been made with the scales of recent mosquitos, which are broadly similar but the venation and anal area are different. The scales on most mosquitos are arranged along the veins. The fossil wing is not considered dipterous.

Trichoptera. While the majority of recent species have hairy wings, most of the families of the suborder Integripalpia have a few species where the wings are covered in scales. These scales vary in shape and size and when studied under the stereoscan electron microscope cross-ribs can be seen. In the sister group of the Integripalpia, the suborder Annulipalpia, the wings are hairy and scales are not developed. Henning (1981) commented that it is virtually impossible to separate the Lepidoptera and Trichoptera on wing venation alone. Probably the only apomorphic character in the wings of Lepidoptera is the fusion of M4 with CuA, leaving, in effect, only three medial veins, as shown by Archaeolepis. Kristensen (1984) points out that M4 is present in the fore (and some hind wings) of Lepidoptera Aglossata. While the scales on the wings of some Trichoptera are quite dense, they are frequently smaller than in Leidoptera and do not usually give the overlapping cover typical of Lepidoptera.

Lepidoptera. Although other lepidopterous groups, such as the Heterobathmiina, have been considered, the comparison of Archaeolepis is better made with the more primitive group Micropterigidae (Kristensen 1979) and more especially with species of Sabatinca Walker. A complete scale-covering of the wing is typical of the Micropterigidae and is similar to Archaeolepis. The shape and such venation as is preserved in the fossil is mostly consistent with the hind wings of Micropterigidae, and this, together with the forked cubital vein, is not inconsistent with the stem-group Amphiesmenoptera. Under the stereoscan the scales of Archaeolepis show a virtual absence of cross-ribs, a condition similar to the Micropterigidae and Eriocraniidae (Kristensen 1970). The subcostal vein in the fossil may be simple, the base is not clear and the radial fork (R1a, R1b) is similar to species of Sabatinca. The exact number of medial veins in Archaeolepis is difficult to determine but there are probably three branches as in the Micropterigidae. If lepidopterous, then Archaeolepis is either the sister group of the Zeugloptera (Micropterigidae) or of the Zeugloptera + Glossata + Heterobathmiina + Aglossata. Without further data neither this, nor even the position of Archaeolepis within the Lepidoptera itself, can be resolved.
In a recent paper Rasnitsyn (1983) reported traces of scales on a small insect from the Upper Jurassic of the U.S.S.R. He proposed a new suborder of Lepidoptera (Eolepidopterigina) and new family (Eolepidopterigidae) for the specimen, which he described as Eolepidopterix jurassica. No apomorphic characters were indicated to confirm the lepidopterous nature of the specimen nor did he say how it differed from scaly-winged Trichoptera. For the present I do not propose to place my new family, Archaeolepidae, in his new suborder but I certainly regard his evidence as showing that Eolepidopterix is lepidopterous.
Archaeolepis extends the age of these scale-winged insects back a further 45-50 million years, and new origins will have to be sought for the Lepidoptera in the Upper Triassic, as suggested by Riek (1976), or even the Middle Triassic (Tindale 1980). Probably the most important implication of Archaeolepis is not so much in the overall picture of the antiquity and evolution of the Lepidoptera, but in the Lepidoptera-plant relationship. Currently Lepidoptera are considered to have arisen at about the time of the earliest angiosperm (i.e. Upper Jurassic-Lower Cretaceous; Hughes 1976), and to have paralleled their evoluntionary diversification. The latter is certainly true but it now appears that the scale-winged insects arose well before the earliest angiosperm. There is, however, no need to link the earliest Lepidoptera with angiosperms because many recent lepidopterous larvae are capable of feeding on a wide range of non-angiosperm plants. This fact, however, is not proof that their ancestors did, since it might be a secondary habit. The existence of Archaeolepis well before the earliest angiosperm is more convincing evidence that early lepidopterous larvae probably did not feed on angiosperms. There were undoubtedly sources of pollen or spores for the adult food, as used by adult moths in the recent Micropterigidae. Sources of liquid food, extra-floral nectaries, plant exudates etc., were available before the angiosperms and although the development of a lepidopteran-type proboscis cannot be entirely ruled out there is no evidence for its development in the Lower Jurassic. An analogy is therefore drawn between the pollen-feeding habits of modern adult Micropterigidae and the possibility that a similar method was available to Archaeolepis.
What is indisputable is that, in the Lower Jurassic, there were small moth-like insects with scale-covered wings. The delicate nature of the Archaeolepis wing suggests that it was not transported very far before fossilization, suggesting the site was near to a land mass." (Whalley 1985).

Worth knowing:


Enderlein, G. 1906. The scaly winged Copeognatha. Spolia zeylanica 4: 39-122, pls A-G.
Henning, W. 1981. Insect phylogeny (transl. Pont, A. with additional footnotes). Chichester. XXII + 514 pp.
Hughes, N. F. 1976. Palaeobiology of Angiosperm Origins. Cambridge. 242 pp.
Kristensen, N. P. 1970. Morphological observations on the wing scales in some primitive Lepidoptera (Insecta). Journal of Ultrastructure Research 30: 402-410.
Kristensen, N. P. 1979. A new family of Microlepidoptera from South America. A contribution to the morphology and phylogeny of the Micropterigidae, with a generic catalogue of the family (Lepidoptera, Zeugloptera). Steenstrupia 5 (7): 69-147.
Kristensen, N. P. 1984. Studies on the morphology and systematics of primitive Lepidoptera (Insecta). Steenstrupia 10 (5): 141-191.
Rasnitsyn, A. P. 1983. Pervaya nakhodka babochki yurskogo vozrasta [First find of a moth from the Jurassic]. Doklady Akademii Nauk SSSR 269 (2): 467-471.
Riek, E. F. 1976. A new collection of insects from the Upper Trias of South Africa. Annals of the Natal Museum 22: 791-820.
Tindale, N. B. 1980. Origin of the Lepidoptera with description of a new mid-Triassix species and notes on the origin of the Butterfly stem. Journal Lepid. Soc. 34: 263-285.
Whalley, P.E.S. 1985. The systematics and biogeography of the Lower Jurassic insects of Dorset, England. Bulletin of the British Museum of Natural History (Geology), 39 (3), 107–189.
Zessin, W. 2009. Kurze Übersicht über die fossilen Schmetterlinge. Virgo, Mitteilungsblatt des Entomologischen Vereins Mecklenburg, 12. Jahrgang (2009), Heft 1: Kurzfassungen der Vorträge der Mikrolepidopteren-Tagung: 9-10.

Publication data:

Kurz Michael: 2015.10.13
Kurz Michael: 2015.10.16
Kurz Michael: 2015.10.17
Kurz Michael: 2015.10.19
Kurz Michael: 2015.10.27
Document reviewed by:
not reviewed: 2015.11.04
Document released by:
Kurz Michael: 2015.11.20