A new order of insects, webspinners (Embioptera), has been identified by the Royal Horticultural Society, making it the first new insect order in Britain for 100 years.
The RHS has added the new insect order to UK fauna after finding and identifying webspinners at its flagship RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey.
In what is thought to be the country’s first colony of Aposthonia ceylonica (a species of webspinners), the insects were discovered in the glasshouse at Wisley last summer and are likely to have been imported into the country via the plant trade.
Most webspinners are actually tropical or subtropical, with several species known from warmer temperate regions such as the Mediterranean, so they do not occur naturally in Britain are subsequently intolerant to cooler climates.
As a result, the current likelihood of you spotting this particular species in your garden is very slim – it's unlikely they would survive outdoors.
'This particular species of webspinner is only found in glasshouses and protected environments but it is colonising within this indoor environment at Wisley,' a spokesperson at RHS tells Miescisko UK. 'Climate change may mean that some species of webspinner found in southern Europe could establish outdoors in the UK, but the species we have in the glasshouses at Wisley is tropical and unlikely to survive out of doors.'
What do webspinners look like? And where can they be found?
Webspinners have up to 2.5cm long brown bodies feeding on a range of fungal and algal growths, lichen and rotting plant material.
They 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.
Aposthonia ceylonica, 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 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.
Andrew Salisbury, Principal Entomologist at the RHS, explains: '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 – if I’d been told I’d one day be adding an entirely new insect order to British fauna I wouldn’t have believed it.'
And finally, what is an 'insect order'?
'An order is the umbrella under which relevant families, genera and species sit,' explains RHS. There are 24 other insect orders in the UK including beetles (Coleoptera), flies (Diptera), bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera), and butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera). The last new order to Britain was stick insects (Phasmida) – added over 100 years ago.