Earwigs are said to crawl into people’s ears and lay eggs there. However, contrary to popular belief, earwigs are actually beneficial insects that play a vital role in our gardens. Let’s delve into the captivating world of earwigs, and uncover the incredible facts about the heroes of our backyard ecosystems!
1. Earwigs have incredible wings
The earwig, commonly called “pincher bug,” is an intriguing insect exhibiting a range of colors, including reddish, brown, black, and yellow. Its length can span from half an inch to three inches. Worldwide, there exist more than 1,000 species of earwigs, such as the tawny, lesser, or the Saint Helena giant earwig (the biggest species). Around 20 different types of them inhabit the US, with the common species being the European earwigs and ring-legged earwigs.
These species have a similar appearance. They all have 6 legs, a pair of antennae, and 2 pairs of wings. You barely see them fly but these species possess one of the most remarkable wings in the animal world. The forewings serve as a shield for the hindwings, which have a slender and fan-shaped structure.
Typically, these wings remain concealed and folded, but during flight, when earwigs are in search of food or partners, their wings expand to a size that can be 10 times larger or even more. While earwigs can fly, they prefer brief episodes of flight rather than continuous aerial movement. Some species even use their wings for short jumps, cushion falls, or swiftly evade threats.
Their body has 3 segments: the head, thorax, and flexible abdomen. On this abdomen, there are 2 long distinctive pincers called forceps or cerci. This characteristic has led to their popular nickname, “pincher bugs.” The forceps of male earwigs are curved, whereas those of females are straight. The insects use their pincers to protect themselves from predators, capture prey, and participate in courtship.
2. They don’t go into your ears
Pincher bugs may look scary, but they are not dangerous or harmful to humans and pets. They do not enter our ears to lay eggs in our brains. It’s just a myth.
Likewise, although earwigs are commonly associated with dark environments, they do not possess any inclination to get into human ears. They deposit their eggs in subterranean nests and do not commonly target humans as hosts.
There is a lack of documented cases regarding these species entering human ears and causing damage. There are different theories about how they get their name. Some propose a connection to the insect’s similarity to earrings or ears.
3. They are beneficial insects and potential pests
Earwigs possess impressive hunting abilities and exhibit a broad palate when it comes to food. These creatures are omnivores and are most active at night (nocturnal).
Similar to woodlice, earwigs serve as vital contributors to the ecosystem by functioning as environmental custodians. These creatures prefer to consume decomposing vegetation such as withering plants, mulch, or composting yard waste. Besides plants, earwigs also include small insects such as fleas or mites, both alive and dead, in their diet. They can help reduce aphid populations. Their strong chewing capabilities enable them to tackle even resilient prey. They’re good for gardens.
Nevertheless, once their source of decomposing matter becomes scarce, they might resort to eating live plants and vegetation. This time, they become nuisances capable of causing significant damage to a gardener’s cultivated plants. They eat different types of plant-based delicacies, including leaves, stem, flowers, fruit, and even mold.
Eating and being eaten, the creatures are delectable meals for various predators, such as birds (like European pied flycatchers), yellow jackets, centipedes, lizards, spiders, and frogs. To defend against natural predators, some species have developed a distinct defensive mechanism by emitting a strong and unpleasant odor. This foul scent is produced by a specialized chemical compound.
If earwigs bother you, you can try to remove them from gardens naturally by attracting their enemies. Setting up bird feeders and birdhouses can assist in controlling the earwig population.
Earwigs are most commonly found in cool and moist environments, and they tend to inhabit a range of outdoor areas. These include leaf piles, soil crevices, rock formations, old wood piles, compost heaps, and even tree holes. They don’t live in water and cannot swim.
Although earwigs typically reside in their natural outdoor habitats, they can inadvertently find their way indoors through wall cracks or by hitching a ride on objects such as trash while searching for food or water. This occurrence is more common during dry weather.
After getting in the house, they’ll find bathrooms, basements, kitchens, and any other moisture-laden spaces. They seek refuge in crevices and are capable of climbing walls or ceilings. Nevertheless, it is improbable for them to reproduce inside homes since they need specific environments with moisture and protection for laying their eggs.
In order to prevent earwigs from living in your house, keep the environment clean and dry, minimizing the presence of damp areas. Don’t worry too much because these insects usually die naturally in indoor environments due to the lack of food supply.
5. They live alone
Earwigs exhibit a unique sleep pattern, resting during the day and becoming active hunters and feeders at night. When searching for food, these species keep looking for appropriate habitats to live in.
Unlike social insects, they are solitary creatures and don’t have any colony or queen to work for. This is the reason why earwig infestations are really rare.
When handled, they might try to hold onto your hand or finger with their forceps, but you will barely feel it, and it can’t hurt you or cause any harm to your skin. The cerci are harmless, and these insects are incapable of stinging or biting. In general, they are not dangerous.
6. They’re dedicated mothers
Earwigs may not be the most appealing insects, with their creepy pincers, but they possess a remarkable trait that sets them apart from other insects: their exceptional maternal care. Unlike many non-social insects, mother earwigs exhibit a protective and meticulous nature when it comes to their offspring.
The process begins with the careful guarding of their eggs, which they tend to do for weeks. To ensure their safety, mother earwigs relocate the eggs to a secure spot, even going so far as to remove foreign objects like small wax balls from the nest. This attention to detail is driven by their sensitivity to scents, as they only want the best environment for their developing eggs.
Apart from their role in guarding, mother earwigs also partake in grooming behavior to safeguard the eggs against detrimental fungi. This grooming process serves a dual purpose: eliminating potential threats and applying a protective chemical to the egg’s surface, which possesses anti-fungal properties. By adding this additional layer of defense, the likelihood of successful hatching is further enhanced.
Even after the eggs hatch, earwigs continue to exhibit maternal care. Some species extend their nurturing efforts by providing them with food and greatly enhancing their likelihood of survival in their environment. Generally, nymphs stay with their mothers until they have completed two molting cycles. The extent of this care can differ across various species.
An exceptional demonstration of maternal devotion can be witnessed in the hump earwig species The mothers stay beside their young till they are capable of fending for themselves. However, the mother’s love doesn’t stop there. They even sacrifice their lives, letting themselves be eaten by their offspring. This phenomenon, called matriphagy, is not limited to hump earwigs and can also be observed in other insect species.
The act of consuming their mother allows the young to acquire a significant nourishment source, eliminating the need to venture outside the nest in search of food. This significantly enhances their chances of survival when they eventually explore the world. While it may appear harsh, this sacrifice ultimately guarantees the strength and well-being of the succeeding generation.
7. Life cycle
Earwigs flourish in regions with warmer climates, and they emerge from the ground in the late spring and early summer. Their mating season takes place in the autumn and early winter.
During the mating ritual, the males use their forceps to approach the females. They tap and stroke the abdomen of the female, showcasing their pincers. Females nipple these pincers, gathering chemosensory feedback to assist them in making up their decision.
These species go through an incomplete metamorphosis, including 3 life stages: egg – nymph – adult. After breeding, they retain their eggs until discover a suitable nesting spot to lay them. Annually, they produce two clutches of eggs with a size can be up to 80 eggs. The time it takes for the eggs to develop into adults varies between 20 and 70 days, based on the temperature.
After 7 days, the hatchlings emerge and start to shed for the first time. Throughout their lifespan, they shed their old skin multiple times to develop adult characteristics. Before reaching maturity, the juveniles experience 4-6 moltings as they transition from nymph to adulthood.
Although the young may exhibit varying colors initially, nymphs start resembling the darker and tougher appearance of adult earwigs within a span of 40 to 60 days. When completing their final molting stage, these insects reach their full maturity and become sexually active adults. On average, they have a lifespan of approximately one year.