Category: Occasional Invaders
Length: >1 3/4"
Earwigs make up the insect order Dermaptera, found throughout the Americas, Eurasia, Australia and New Zealand. With 1,800 species in 12 families, they are one of the smaller insect orders. Earwigs have characteristic cerci, a pair of forceps pincers on their abdomen, and membranous wings folded underneath short forewings, hence the scientific order name, “skin wings.” Some groups are tiny parasites on mammals and lack the typical pincers. Earwigs rarely use their flying ability.
Earwigs are nocturnal; they often hide in small, moist crevices during the day, and are active at night, feeding on a wide variety of insects and plants. Damage to foliage, flowers, and various crops is commonly blamed on earwigs, especially the common earwig Forficula auricularia.
Earwigs have five molts in the year before they become adults. Many earwig species display maternal care, which is uncommon among insects. Female earwigs may care for their eggs, and even after they have hatched as nymphs will continue to watch over offspring until their second molt. As the nymphs molt, sexual dimorphism such as differences in pincer shapes begins to show.
The scientific name for the order, Dermaptera, is Greek in origin, stemming from the words dermatos, meaning skin, and pteron, wing. It was coined by Charles De Geer in 1773. The common term, earwig, is derived from the Old English ēare, which means “ear”, and wicga, which means “insect”. The name may be related to the old wives’ tale that earwigs burrowed into the brains of humans through the ear and laid their eggs there. Earwigs are predisposed to hiding in warm humid crevices and may indeed occasionally crawl into the human ear canal (much like any other small organism).
The common earwig was introduced into North America in 1907 from Europe, but tend to be more common in the Southern and Southwestern states.