Moth Colouration

The DpSU for Thursday was called Fossil Moth Still Shows Its Colors. The subjects are 47 million year old moth fossils from the Messel Pit, for which the chitin nanostructure that causes their colour has (more-or-less) survived.

But, according to Mr Thomas, that’s impossible:

But who would expect that such detailed structures—so fine that researcher need an electron microscope to see them—persisted for a million years? If rock and soil covered the fossils over that length of time, then these delicate moth scale structures should have flattened long ago. However, if there wasn’t much rock or soil on top of them, then oxygen gas would have reached them more easily and oxidized the scales, obliterating all their structure.

Well, for one, can he show that there is no goldilocks zone between too much and not enough rock? Additionally, the Messel Pit is an oil shale, which for all know might relieve some of the problems. Shouldn’t the oil oxidise first? Would oxidation even affect the nanostructure? (Serious question here – do you know?)

It goes without saying that the claim that the it’s “almost like the moths were alive yesterday” is bogus, considering the stuff in the section entitled “The Original Colors of the Fossils Are Not Preserved But Can Be Reconstructed.” He really doesn’t have anything that says that this is impossible. Moving right along…


The actual topic of the paper was to prove that such structural colouration existed at least as far back as the Eocene, which helps in determining its evolution. This is completely ignored by Mr Thomas.

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