Animal Fact Sheets

Earwig range map

Stable in the Wild

COMMON EARWIG

(Forficula auricularia)
 

Classification and Range

Earwigs, distributed throughout the world, belong to the relatively small order of insects, Dermaptera. The order Dermaptera contains approximately 1,100 species of earwig. The common earwig (Forficula auricularia) is a member of the suborder Forficulina, which is the largest group of Dermaptera. The common earwig, also known as the European earwig, is the most numerous species of earwig.

Habitat

Common earwigs are found in tropical, temperate and arid habitats. They are usually found in secluded, undisturbed places like wood piles, under stones or underneath debris.

Physical Characteristics

All earwigs are small in size, and common earwigs are generally 0.75 inches (18 mm) in length. Common earwigs have slender, elongated and flattened bodies. Their color is a reddish-brown. While most earwigs have two pairs of wings, common earwigs have two incomplete sets of wings, making them virtually wingless and completely flightless. For species of earwigs with a complete set of wings, their forewings are thickened, leathery and short, while hindwings are membranous and folded beneath the forewings.

Earwigs have chewing mouthparts and simple eyes. Their antennae are long and generally have 12-15 segments. The most obvious characteristic of earwigs is their strong pincers located on the tip of the abdomen. These pincers are used for defense and capturing food.

Life Span

About one year

Diet

In the wild: Earwigs are omnivorous and primarily scavenge for food, eating organic and decaying matter. Some species use their pincers to capture and eat small arthropods such as mites, spiders, flies or caterpillars.
At the zoo: Apples, oranges, romaine lettuce and monkey chow

Reproduction

Egg-laying occurs in early spring. The female mates indiscriminately and then lays a clutch of 20-50 smooth, white or cream-colored eggs in subterranean chambers. She will protect her eggs from any intruders, including her mate. As she guards her eggs, she cares for them by frequently licking the eggs to prevent fungal infestations. Once hatched, the female will care for her young until their first molt when they are old enough to fend for themselves.

Life Cycle

Earwigs go through incomplete metamorphosis (nymphs look similar to adults) and in 10 weeks reach the adult stage of growth. Once an earwig is an adult, it will live approximately eight to 10 months. Earwigs are nocturnal in nature, coming out to eat in the late evening and hiding during the day. Common earwigs are often found in large sleeping colonies. Predators of earwigs include mammals and birds. Some species of earwigs will eject a foul-smelling liquid when threatened.

A Fondness for Human Ears!

The name "earwig" came from an early European erroneous belief that earwigs were dangerous to humans. Superstition had it that while a person slept, an "ear" wig would crawl into their ear and bore into their brain. Once in the brain, the earwig would lay its eggs. You can imagine the rest!

This belief is completely false, since earwigs are harmless animals that have never attacked humans (or other animals) in this manner. A human who carelessly handles an earwig, though, can receive a mild pinch from the earwig's powerful pincers.

Location at the Zoo

Bug World does not currently have earwigs in its collection. However, you'll go "buggy" while viewing exciting seasonal displays that take you on a journey to different bioclimatic zones around the world. You may come face-to-face with recycling cockroaches, assassin bugs, web-spinning spiders or scuba diving beetles, to name only a few. The only way you'll find out which bugs you'll encounter is by visiting Bug World. Don't miss it!

Conservation Connection

Earwigs are common throughout the world. Human-caused changes in land use are escalating, and this affects the natural habitat required by earwigs and other animals for survival. Vast forests are being removed for timber or other paper products, and industrial emissions are polluting water and air resources. Additionally, habitat is rapidly converted by expanding human communities and agricultural needs. It’s only a matter of time until many insect species populations will become severely reduced, or eliminated.

Humans need insects. Often unnoticed, earwigs and other insects are essential for maintaining the balance in nature and health of the living world. Here are only a few of the benefits insects provide:

  • Bees, butterflies and other insects pollinate wild plants and our crops, ensuring the production of seeds and fruits required for the continued survival of plants and animals.
  • Earwigs, beetles and other insect scavengers clean up the environment by consuming decaying plants and animals. Nutrients are recycled back into the soil, helping future generations of plants to grow.
  • Many species of carnivorous beetles, ants and wasps eat other harmful insects that damage or destroy our crops and spread disease.
  • Burrowing insects aerate and enrich the soil.
  • Insects are a source of food for animals, including humans!
  • Insects produce products used by people, including honey, beeswax, silk and dyes, to name only a few.

 

How You Can Help!

The effort to save animals and their habitat requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. To conserve habitat for beetles and other insects, reduce your use of pesticides and herbicides, and work to preserve vegetation in your neighborhood and in tropical regions.

Contact Woodland Park Zoo at webkeeper@zoo.org to find out how you can support conservation efforts at the zoo. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.

Sources and Suggested Reading

Borror, Donald Joyce. 1974. A Field Guide to Insects: America North of Mexico (Petersen Field Guide Series). Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA. 404 p.Nuridsany, Claude and Marie Perennou. 1997. Microcosmos. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York, NY. 160 p.

For Kids!

Mound, Laurence. 1990. Insect (Eyewitness Book). Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, NY. 64 p.Zoobooks. 1994. Insects. Wildlife Education Ltd., San Diego, CA. 18 p.

Zoobooks. 1994. Insects 2. Wildlife Education Ltd., San Diego, CA. 22 p.

 

Earwig Taxonomy

Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Dermaptera

Earwig Fascinating Facts

    li>The name Dermaptera means "skin-winged." This refers to the large, fragile hindwings of the earwig!
  • Some species of earwigs may burrow as deep as six feet into the ground to escape cold temperatures while they overwinter!
  • Earwigs rarely resort to flight and are not suited for crawling long distances. They often get from one place to another by hitchhiking in clothing, paper, wood, automobiles, etc.!
  • Many tropical species of earwigs are brightly colored and carnivorous!
 
 
 
 

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