Fun Facts about Earwigs

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The earwig, or pincher bug, is an insect that almost everyone is familiar with. Most people have moved a flower pot or piece of furniture to find an earwig hiding underneath, or discovered an earwig party while doing landscaping work. While they’re not dangerous to humans, most people find the sight of them disturbing or even frightening.

Even though you probably don’t want them in your home, there’s no reason to be afraid of these little guys. That’s why we’re presenting some of our favorite facts about earwigs, and dispelling some of the most popular myths about these pests. You may never want an earwig as a visitor, but having some background knowledge can always come in handy!

Fact No. 1: They have nothing to do with ears.

Earwigs are especially popular in folklore because of persistent tales that they craw inside your ears to lay their eggs or feed on your brain. Their name probably originated from these tales, and from European names for the insect that meant “ear worm” or “ear wiggler.”

Fortunately, this legend has no basis in fact. Earwigs do prefer tight, dark spaces, but wouldn’t choose your ear as a home. Earwigs lay their eggs in underground nests in the fall and winter. They’d never choose a human host for their eggs – we’re simply not a hospitable environment!

As far as feeding on your brain goes, earwigs prefer to feast on decaying vegetation, like dying plants, mulch or composting yard waste. They can cause significant damage to seedling vegetables, annual bedding plants and soft fruits. Larger earwigs sometimes capture and eat smaller insects, and are sometimes beneficial in decreasing aphid populations.

Fact No. 2: Earwigs have wings.

When you think of an earwig, you probably immediately visualize the large pincers on their abdomen (more on those later). But did you know that most earwigs actually have two pairs of wings, and some can even fly?

Fact No. 3: Earwigs are smelly creatures.

In addition to producing pheromones to aid in their mating process, some species of earwig emit a noticeable foul odor when they are disturbed – it is a special chemical compound that earwigs use as a defense mechanism against larger predators.

Fact No. 4: Earwigs are not dangerous to humans.

Those big forceps on an earwig’s abdomen are used for defense, or, in the case of larger earwigs, for hunting smaller prey. If they are handled, they may try to use their foreceps, or cerci, to grasp your hand or finger, but it will be barely noticeable and will probably not break your skin.

The earwig’s cerci are not poisonous, and earwigs do not have the ability to bite or sting people.

Fact No. 5: Earwigs take good care of their babies.

Earwigs are one of the deepest nesters in Arizona, so they can be difficult to control. Mother earwigs build their nests deep underground to protect the 20-300 eggs they lay twice a year from predators and cold temperatures. The female guards her eggs, and will feed and nurture the baby earwigs when they hatch, which is unusual for most insects. Once they are able to feed themselves, the young earwigs are out on their own.

The immature earwigs (nymphs) look like tiny versions of adult earwigs, though they lack wings.

Fact No. 6: Earwigs don’t like to live in your house.

Because earwigs prefer damp organic environments, your home is not where they’d most like to spend their time. Many earwigs end up indoors by mistake while they are searching for food, or if they are looking for water during especially dry weather. Earwigs won’t breed in your home because it likely lacks the moisture and protection a mother earwig needs to lay her eggs.

As with most pests, keeping your home clean and free of damp areas will help eliminate earwigs. Earwigs usually die on their own indoors because there is little for them to eat.

Fact No. 7: Earwigs are night owls.

Earwigs are most active and do their hunting and foraging at night. You might notice groups of them on your patio on summer nights, because they are attracted to lights. During the day, they prefer to hide out in burrows, in garden mulch, or in tight crevices under flower pots or furniture.

It’s helpful to know that earwigs are most often found in your home by accident, and it’s not very likely that you’ll experience a full-fledged infestation inside your home. However, because of the damage they can do to your landscaping, it’s still a good idea to take preventative measures to decrease their populations outside your home. If you have questions about earwigs, and what you can do to prevent them, give us a call – we are happy to help!

Sources:
University of California Integrated Pest Management Program
University of Illinois Integrated Pest Management Program
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension