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Earwigs

The common name of “earwig” comes from an old European superstition that these insects enter the ears of sleeping people and bore into the brain. This belief is without foundation. The forceps like cerci are apparently used to capture prey. Earwigs are worldwide in distribution, with about 22 species occurring in the United States.

Biology

Earwigs typically overwinter outdoors as adults in protected situations. The European earwig overwinters in pairs in earthen cells 1 1/8- 1 1/2″ beneath the surface and the stripped earwig in subterranean burrows or chambers. The females lay and tend their eggs in these underground situations and then tend the newly hatched nymphs. Earwigs have 4-5 nymphal instars. Nymphal development averages about 56 days for the striped and takes about 68 days for the European earwig, both having 4 instars. European females lay about 30-55 eggs the first time and may lay 3-4 more batches. The red-legged female lays about 40-53 eggs on the average and its 5 nymphal instars require about 80 days to complete development. Some females may live as long as 7 months after attaining maturity.

Earwigs have a distinctive disagreeable/repugnant odor which is released when they are crushed, but some species can squirt such a liquid. They are gregarious in nature, typically occurring in groups. Red-legged earwigs have been reported to cause minor skin abrasions in humans.

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Earwig

Feeding Preferences

Earwigs feed on live or dead plants and/or insects. At times they damage cultivated plants. The European earwig occasionally damages vegetables, flowers, fruits, ornamental shrubs, and trees, and has been recorded as feeding on honey in beehives.

 Transmitted Diseases

Not an important vector of human disease.

The bite of an earwig can be painful, but they are not venomous and do not transfer diseases.

Habits

 

Earwigs are nocturnal or active at night and hide during the day in moist, shady places such as under stones or logs, or in mulch. Neither the eggs nor the nymphs can withstand long periods of dryness.

The red-legged earwig has been recorded as a pest of Irish and sweet potatoes in storage damaging the roots of greenhouse vegetables, and nurseries. The striped earwig has not been recorded as damaging plants.

Earwigs are attracted to light or to insects attracted to lights. Usually it is the European and red-legged earwigs which occasionally invade homes, sometimes by the hundreds or thousands.

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