Earwig: The Not-So-Scary Pincers of the Insect World

Earwigs are fascinating creatures, often misunderstood and mistakenly maligned due to their peculiar physical attributes and the myths surrounding them. In this article, we’ll explore their biology, behaviour, ecology, and relationship with humans, as well as methods of pest control for those unwanted earwig guests.

earwig-in-dc
earwig-in-dc

Characteristics

Earwigs belong to the order Dermaptera, comprising over 2000 species spread across 12 families. They’re known for their elongated bodies, typically ranging from 5-50mm, and most distinctively, their forcep-like pincers or cerci. These cerci, varying in shape between species and between genders, are often a key to earwig identification. They’re nocturnal, omnivorous creatures, feeding on a variety of foods, from plant material to other smaller insects.

Etymology

The term ‘earwig’ stems from the Old English ‘ēare’, meaning ‘ear’, and ‘wicga’, translating to ‘insect’. The etymology is likely due to the widespread (and largely false) belief that earwigs burrow into human ears – a myth perpetuated by their slender bodies, perfect for fostering such uncanny tales.

Distribution

earwig
earwig

Earwigs can be found worldwide, except for polar regions. They prefer warm and humid climates, often seeking shelter in gardens, woodlands, and other damp, secluded areas. Though they are more common in temperate regions, certain species, like the European earwig, have become cosmopolitan due to human activities.

Morphology

Earwigs have a distinctive morphology. They possess a pair of wings, although they seldom fly. The wings are usually folded beneath short, leathery wing covers, resulting in a segmented, elongated appearance. Their heads are equipped with strong mandibles, compound eyes, and typically unsegmented antennae. The abdomen terminates in those infamous pincers or cerci, which are curved in males and straight in females for many species.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Earwigs are hemimetabolous insects, meaning they undergo incomplete metamorphosis. This cycle comprises the egg, nymph, and adult stages. The females lay their eggs in burrows, typically in the soil, and remarkably, exhibit maternal care – a rare behaviour among insects. They guard and clean the eggs until they hatch into nymphs, which resemble miniature adult earwigs. The nymphs undergo four to six moults before reaching adulthood.

Behaviour

Earwigs are mainly nocturnal creatures, hiding during the day in damp, enclosed spaces and becoming active at night. While often solitary, some species can be communal, forming aggregations. Their pincers are used for defence, capturing prey, and during mating. Despite their fearsome look, their pincers aren’t harmful to humans.

Ecology

Earwigs play a dual role in the ecosystem. On the one hand, they help in decomposing organic matter, contributing to the nutrient cycle. On the other hand, they can cause significant damage to foliage, flowers, and various crops. Their diet comprises decaying plant matter, lichens, fungi, and other small insects.

Predators and Parasites

The earwig’s world is full of danger. Their predators include birds, amphibians, and spiders. In terms of parasites, earwigs can be plagued by mites and nematodes. Certain flies and wasps also parasitise earwigs, using them as a host for their larvae.

Distinguishing Characteristics

Earwigs are usually recognised by their pincers. However, within the earwig order, species differentiation can be more nuanced. It often depends on body size, colouration, wing development, and pincer shape. For example, the common European earwig (Forficula auricularia) can be identified by its dark brown body, yellow legs, and large, curved pincers on males.

Relationship with Humans

The relationship between humans and earwigs is complex. On the one hand, earwigs can be beneficial, preying on aphids and other garden pests. However, their fondness for decaying organic matter and plants can lead to them causing damage to crops and ornamental plants. Moreover, when earwigs make their way into homes, they can be a nuisance, though they pose no real danger.

Pest Control for Earwigs

Earwig infestations can be managed using various approaches. Preventive measures include reducing outdoor lighting (which attracts them) and sealing gaps in doors and windows to prevent their entry into homes. Natural predators, like birds and toads, can be encouraged in gardens as biological control agents.

For more severe infestations, chemical controls may be required. Insecticides can be applied around the house perimeter and potential hiding spots. However, professional pest control services, like ours at Bon Accord Pest Control, should be contacted to ensure the process is safe and effective, and to prevent recurrences.

Conclusion

Despite their somewhat eerie appearance and reputation, earwigs are fascinating and ecologically significant creatures. Understanding their biology, behaviour, and ecology can help us appreciate their role in the ecosystem and manage their populations when they become problematic. As always, in cases of infestation, professional pest control services can provide the most effective solution.

Unmasking the Earwig: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Are earwigs dangerous to humans?

A: No, earwigs are not dangerous to humans. Although they have pincers that they use for defence, these are not strong enough to harm humans. The age-old myth that they crawl into human ears to lay eggs is just that – a myth. They may be a nuisance if they invade homes, but they pose no physical threat.

Q: Can earwigs fly?

A: Yes, most species of earwigs do have wings and are capable of flight. However, they rarely do so. Instead, they prefer to crawl and hide in dark, damp areas.

Q: What do earwigs eat?

A: Earwigs are omnivorous and can consume a variety of organic matter. They eat plant material, lichens, fungi, and even other smaller insects. Some species are known to cause damage to crops and ornamental plants, feeding on leaves, flowers, and fruits.

Q: How do earwigs reproduce?

A: Female earwigs lay eggs in burrows, usually in the soil. In a rare display of maternal care in insects, they guard and clean the eggs until they hatch into nymphs. These nymphs resemble small adults and will moult several times before becoming mature earwigs.

Q: How can I prevent an earwig infestation in my home?

A: Preventive measures include sealing gaps and cracks in doors and windows, reducing outdoor lighting which attracts earwigs, and removing garden debris that can serve as their hiding spots. For severe infestations, it is recommended to contact a professional pest control service for effective treatment.

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