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July 22, 2009


During our weekly staff meeting here at USEE, we have an agenda item entitled "Nature Reports". During this time, we go around the room and discuss anything interesting we've seen or experienced in the natural world. Not only is it a good way for our staff to bond a bit, but it also tends to bring up some interesting questions.

This week, Alaina, one of our Interns noted that she's seen many earwigs in her garden and yard. I too have had a lot of earwigs in my garden, as has Jason. We started talking about the origin of the name earwig and realized there were a lot of "urban myths" about it. I don't think I've ever met someone who doesn't dislike the little critters, and part of that may come from their unfortunate name. Here are some of the origins I have heard....

* They crawl into your ears at night and nibble away at your brains
* They crawl into your ears and lay their eggs
* They are attracted to the smell of ear wax
* Their wings are shaped like ears
* They like to get into ears of corn (Nicole suggested this one...)
* They'll pinch you (doesn't have anything to do with ears, but it adds to the dislike of earwigs I think)

After looking at a couple websites, I found that all of this information above was basically false. The BBC Science and Nature website gives the following information, so maybe we should show these guys a bit more respect. Its not their fault they got the name earwigs rather than cute-cuddle bugs or something non-chill inducing.

Common earwig
Forficula auricularia Despite its name and threatening appearance, the common earwig is a harmless and interesting creature.

The name earwig is derived from the old English 'earwicga' which means 'ear beetle'. It was once commonly believed that earwigs would burrow into people's ears at night and lay eggs in their brains. In fact the story still circulates as an urban myth. Earwigs are not parasitic and would rather lay their eggs under a stone. The human ear, though about the right size for an earwig, is not an ideal resting place. So if one were to crawl into someone's ear it would not be typical behaviour but the actions of one very confused and lost earwig.

Earwigs are 8-18mm long.

Physical Description:
A small smooth elongated brown insect with a pair of pincer-like appendages at the end of its abdomen. They have a pair of fan-like hindwings that are normally folded away behind the thorax and hidden under their short leathery forewings. Males and females can be distinguished by their tail pincers, which are more curved in males than females.

They are found all over Europe but have been introduced to many other parts of the world.

Earwigs can be found in damp crevices in houses, gardens and woodland.

They feed on decaying plant and animal matter and other insects. (Though, I know they eat my garden plants, and Colorado Extension will verify that as well.)

Earwigs rest during the day inside damp crevices such as under bark or in hollow plant stems. They are scavengers and emerge at night. Their pincers can give a small nip to a human but they are normally used to scare away predators and to help them tuck their wings away.

The female lays eggs under stones and in crevices and will stay with her eggs guarding them. From time to time she will gently clean the eggs with her mouthparts to prevent fungal infection. She will continue guarding her young, which look like miniature versions of their parents, until they have grown large enough to fend for themselves.


Cath said...

We had a lengthy discussion just this evening with our back-door neighbor about the vast hordes of earwigs we all seem to be finding underneath stones, swarming on our outside door jambs, and in the moist, damp pockets of our homes (including the dish rag in the sink--eew.) I thought it was funny, and educational, to see this post tonight. Seems we all have a little bit of the earwig "on the brain."

Mark said...

Great info! I am pretty calm about most insects, but I have to admit I don't like these buggers. I think it is the fact that I always find them in unexpected places and in mass quantities. Unfortunately, thanks to this info, I will need to find another excuse for my brain damage. ;^)

Jason said...

I've never liked them either. As a kid my job was to get them out of the bbq before we lit it.

Mary said...

Thanks for posting the info on earwigs! I've always been creeped out by them, and was sure they would bite and sting me. I find them in my house - I wonder if I have some dampness somewhere that I don't know about.