Phylogeny and Evolution of Webspinners (Embioptera)

Embioptera (webspinners) rank as one of the most neglected orders of insects. Most people have never heard of them, and even many insect specialists and collectors are relatively unfamiliar with the group. This is unfortunate since they are exceptionally interesting insects. They, along with Hymenoptera, Trichoptera, and Lepidoptera among the insects, are able to spin silk. However, they are the only insects that spin silk as both adults and immatures. Also, they spin silk from glands in their front legs. They use the silk to make galleries in which they live subsocially. Some species appear to exhibit varying degrees of maternal care and nymphs and adults often live in the same galleries.

They occur throughout the world, but are most diverse and abundant in tropical and subtropical regions. Some species live in relatively dry regions and others live in cool cloud forests. Many are arboreal spinning their silk galleries on the surfaces of trees. Others are subterranean and can be found in galleries under rocks. There are a little more than 400 species described, but the number of undescribed species in collections may actually place the species diversity at over 2000. Given that embiids are relatively secretive and few collectors actively attempt to find them, it seems likely that many more species will eventually be discovered once collecting effort approaches that for other taxa.