New insect order to Britain discovered

RHS finds first new order to Britain in over 100 years, after identifying webspinners at its flagship garden

Aposthonia ceylonica – a species of webspinner - were discovered in the Glasshouse at RHS Garden Wisley in 2018 and will now join 24 other insect orders found in Britain. 

What is an insect order?

An order is the umbrella under which relevant families, genera and species sit.

Insect orders include beetles (Coleoptera), flies (Diptera), bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera), and butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) with the last new order to Britain – stick insects (Phasmida) - added over 100 years ago. 

​​Andrew Salisbury, Principal Entomologist at the RHS, says: “The confirmation of a new grouping of insects in Britain is evidence of the role that globalisation is and will continue to play on what is found in our gardens. It’s certainly an exciting discovery.”

What is a webspinner?

Webspinners (Embioptera) have up to 2.5cm long brown bodies and are the only insects that produce a silk webbing from their front legs, living in tunnels constructed from it to protect themselves from the elements and predators. They feed on a range of fungal and algal growths, lichen and rotting plant material.

The species found by the RHS is about 1 cm long and lives on the hanging roots of tropical plants like orchids and bromeliads. Their webbing means they can be easily confused for spiders, fungal hyphae or even mealybug secretions and so may be found in other UK plant collections grown under protection.  

Webspinners live in colonies and display maternal care of eggs and young, nymphs remaining with the female until they are almost adults. Only adult males are winged and usually the only individuals to leave the webbing. Males however do not feed once they mature and die soon after mating.

Most webspinners are tropical or subtropical with several species known from warmer temperate regions such as the Mediterranean. They are intolerant to cooler climates and so do not occur naturally in Britain. They are likely to have been imported into the country via the plant trade.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.