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Pest Profile: Earwigs

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You may have heard the old wives’ tale about earwigs crawling into the ears of unsuspecting people. More elaborate versions of this tale claim that these bugs bore into the human brain to lay their eggs. Although fascinating and horrifying, earwigs do not seek out ears or brains for any reason, so you can sleep without these worries.

The common name earwig is derived from the Old English words ēare and wicga which literally translates to “ear beetle.” The origins of this name probably refer to the shape of the rarely-exposed hindwings, which are said to resemble a human ear when unfurled.

The European earwig, Forficula auricularia, and the ring-legged earwig, Euborellia annulipes, are two of the most commonly found species in the southeastern United States.

Earwigs are long-bodied and flattened with a pair of pincers at the rear of the body. These pincers are called cerci, and many groups of insects have them (like cockroaches and praying mantises), but only earwigs have developed them into hardened forceps. Male earwigs have curved pincers, while the females have straight ones. These pinching organs are used to help fold up the wings, for capturing prey, and for defending themselves against predators. They can bend their abdomen up like a scorpion and deliver a pinch in front of their head. They do not hesitate to pinch when handled, but their small size results in a fairly weak squeeze.

Earwigs are nocturnal and prefer to hide during the daylight hours. Outdoors, they can be found in areas of high moisture, like in mulch beds and under potted plants, scavenging on dead animal and plant material. Indoors, they search for dark cracks or crevices and are attracted to the moisture of bathrooms and sinks.

Earwigs cannot reproduce or survive indoors, and they cause no structural damage. They are simply a pest due to their presence which repulses most people. Finding earwigs inside indicates two things: that your landscape is damp enough to support them, and that there is a gap or crack somewhere in your home that is allowing them to get inside. Locating and fixing exclusion problems will reduce the quantity of earwigs entering your home.

Earwigs may be both harmful and helpful in the garden. They may nibble on crops, flowers, and foliage but generally do not cause significant damage to living plant material. Alternatively, they may eat plant pests like aphids and scales and reduce overall damage to plants.

One of the most interesting things about earwigs is that the females exhibit parental care of the young. The mother lays her eggs in a sheltered location, protecting them from predators and parasites. If the eggs become scattered, she pushes them back together into a group. She also tenderly cleans them to prevent fungi from growing on the shells. She refrains from foraging or eating until her eggs have hatched. Upon hatching, the mother assists the nymphs in emerging from their shells. Only after the nymphs have hatched will the mother search for food, which she will bring back and regurgitate to her young. She will continue to care for them until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Should the mother die before the nymphs leave the nest, they may consume her body, providing valuable nutrients for their continued survival without her.

References:
Walter W Skeat, 2013. An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Courier Corporation. p. 187. ISBN 9780486317656.

Featured Creature: Ringlegged Earwig. University of Florida. Website: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/veg/ringlegged_earwig.htm. Accessed March 2018.

Featured Creature: European Earwig. University of Florida. Website: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/veg/european_earwig.htm. Accessed March 2018.