The other day I was weeding my garden when I spotted a small hole in the soil. When I looked more closely, I noticed a bunch of things moving in the hole. Then a slew of earwigs crawled out of the nest, evidently upset that I’d disturbed their slumber. It was both fascinating and a bit disgusting, and it made me realize how little I know about earwigs. So I thought I’d rectify that and write a post about them!

Earwigs belong to the order Dermaptera, and live on every continent except Asia and Antarctica. There are around 2000 species of earwig. They love damp, dark spaces, and so are usually found in bark or logs, though they will also make use of any manmade cracks and crevices.

An earwig posing nicely on some flowers. The pincers on this earwig are quite curved, meaning it is a male. Image by James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Earwigs are well built for wriggling into these tiny cracks, with flat, elongated bodies. They range in size from 7-50 mm, so you don’t have to worry about these guys getting too big. The most recognizable feature of earwigs is the pincers on their abdomens, which are used both for defence and for hunting. Earwigs do have wings, though they rarely fly, and the wings are usually tucked away.

Different species of earwigs eat different things, but most are scavengers or omnivores. They will also eat plants, which means they are sometimes considered pests, though they also eat other insect pests, so the jury is still out on whether earwigs are good or bad for crops.

Earwigs mate in the fall, with a male and female spending the winter together in a cozy retreat, usually a pile of debris or a hole in soil. In the spring the male leaves, and the female lays between 20 and 80 eggs in her nest. Female earwigs are very loving parents, tending to the eggs and newly hatched young. The eggs hatch after a week, and the young go through a series of moults before becoming adults. Their mother will stay with them until their second moult.

An earwig posing nicely on some flowers. The pincers on this earwig are quite curved, meaning it is a male. Image by Photo by Tom Oates, 2010, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Earwigs have a pretty creepy crawly way of moving about, but other than that, there is little need to fear them. They do not actually crawl into peoples’ brains through the ears, and though they can sting, it is a very mild one that doesn’t hurt people. Some species can shoot smelly stuff from their abdomens, but this still isn’t harmful to people. So don’t fear earwigs!

Cover image by Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons, brightened