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The order Embioptera, commonly known as webspinners, are a small group of mostly tropical and subtropical insects, classified under the subclass Pterygota. The order has also been referred to as Embiodea or Embiidina (Borror et al. 1989). The name Embioptera ("lively wings") comes from Greek, embios meaning "lively" and pteron meaning "wing", a name that has not been considered to be particularly descriptive for this group of fliers (Engel & Grimaldi 2006), perhaps instead referring to their remarkable speed of movement both forward and backward (Wallace 2009). The group probably first appeared during the Jurassic and is well represented in Cretaceous amber. The common name webspinner comes from the insects' unique ability to spin silk from structures on their front legs. They use the silk to make a web-like pouch or gallery in which they live.
Over 360 embiopteran species have been described (Engel & Grimaldi 2006, Szumik 2008), along with estimates of around 2000 species being in existence today (Ross 2000). There is some debate as to the exact phylogenetic classification of Embioptera, with the order having been classed as a sister group to both orders Zoraptera, (Engel & Grimaldi 2006, Yoshizawa 2007) and Phasmatodea (Terry & Whiting 2005), and there is continuing dispute today concerning the accuracy of these classifications (Dallai et al. 2007).
The order is distributed all over the world, being found on every continent except Antarctica, with the highest density and diversity of species being located in tropical regions (Ross 2009).