First new insect order in Britain for 100 years

A colony of Aposthonia ceylonica, a species of webspinner, has been found in Surrey.

Female Aposthonia ceylonica: nymphs remain with females until they are almost adults.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has added a new insect order (Embioptera) to UK fauna after finding and identifying webspinners at Garden Wisley, Surrey, last summer.

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“Finding them is absolutely amazing,” says Andrew Salisbury, RHS principal entomologist. “It is the first new insect order discovered in the UK since stick insects were found in Devon in 1909.”

Male Aposthonia ceylonica: only adult males are winged and are usually the only individuals to leave the webbing.
Male Aposthonia ceylonica: only adult males are winged and are usually the only individuals to leave the webbing.

Discovered in a glass house, Aposthonia ceylonica is a tropical insect measuring about 1cm long that feeds on the hanging roots of plants like orchids and bromeliads. Generally found in Thailand, it is likely to have been imported via the plant trade.

“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,” adds Salisbury.

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Webspinners live in tunnels constructed from silk webbing, feed on a range of fungal and algal growth, lichen and rotting plant material, and live in colonies.

“They need to be identified from the males, which do not occur very often,” he explains. Experts in the US and Thailand were contacted to the confirm the identity.

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The find was also reported to the relevant authorities, who confirmed that the species isn’t a pest. Embioptera now joins 24 other insect orders found in the UK.