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The tiny 'jaw-moths' of the family Micropterigidae hold a special place in our understanding of the evolution of moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera) because of their antiquity and their status as the most primitive type of surviving Lepidoptera. Almost perfect fossils preserved in amber from places as remote as the Baltic Sea, Burma and Lebanon indicate that these moths had reached their zenith before the end of the Jurassic (140 million years ago – the age of dinosaurs) and have survived almost unchanged all over the world. Modern jaw-moths retain the basic jaws that characterise so many insect groups (hence the common name) whereas all the higher moths and butterflies have evolved a coiled tongue which gives them the ability to specialise on the nectar of flowering plants (Angiosperms), thereby gaining access to an energy-rich source of food from the commonest type of plants. Micropterigid larvae are unique, so unlike the familiar caterpillars of other moths that even entomologists can be baffled as to what sort of insect they represent. In New Zealand, all but one of the jaw-moth caterpillars feed on liverworts.
New Zealand's micropterigid moths are best described as little jewels of the insect world. With a size range from 5 to 12 mm wingspan, their wings shine with golden or purple iridescence as they flit about amongst ferns, low shrubs and sedges in shady places alongside tracks, forest roadways, and around the edge of forest clearings. They are recognisable from their metallic colouring and the tent-like position of the wings over the body. Their antennae are held more or less erect and diverging, and the head and thorax are exceptionally hairy. Identification of most New Zealand species can be made directly from their colour patterns.
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