The Earwig

an earwig on a leaf


Earwigs are small, winged insects of the order Dermaptera, which is derived from the Greek words ‘dermatos’ (meaning skin) and ‘pteron’ (meaning wing). The name ‘earwig’ is a word of Old English and it means ‘ear insect’. You might have heard the old wives’ tale that earwigs crawl inside the ears of human beings and lay eggs in the ear canal, but this is just a myth. If an earwig ever went inside a human’s ear, it was probably accidental. The fossil records of these insects show that they existed almost 208 million years ago in the era of the dinosaurs. They have about 2000 different species.


The body of an earwig is split into three segments: head, thorax, and abdomen. Their body is long and flattened. They normally range in length from 6mm to 18mm. The longest one measures 50mm in length and is known as the Australian Giant Earwig. They have paired pincers at the end of their abdomen. These are also called cerci and they’re the most easily noticeable part of earwigs. They are shaped like forceps and they look very dangerous. They might intimidate you, but they’re not poisonous. Earwigs are used to fending off unwanted predators and catch preys. Some species also discharge a yellow liquid that has a foul odor, to protect themselves from predators. They usually don’t harm humans but if they sense danger they might use their pincers to hurt you. However, it’s nothing alarming because their bite isn’t infectious.

Earwigs have a thread like antennae on their head. They have thin forewings and hindwings. The forewings are leathery and cover the hindwings. Despite having wings, they are not usually seen flying. Their feet compensate for that as they are fast runners. Their nervous system comprises of a brain and associated ganglia.

They’re usually found in grasslands and forests, hiding under logs, fallen leaves, stones, wooden planks or flower pots. Earwigs are omnivorous insects that consume both dead and living plant and animal matter. They have compound eyes which are very skilled at detecting motion; therefore, it is very hard to catch them. But some species of earwigs are blind. And since they are nocturnal, you would’ve hardly spotted them during the day. At night they can be seen around light-emitting sources. In houses, they’re usually found where there is water, such as in bathrooms and kitchens.


Owing to their elongated and flattened bodies, they are usually found hiding in narrow crevices. They crave warm and moist places. Usually they won’t go inside your homes, but they may do so when the weather outside is too hot. The air-conditioning in homes offers them a cool and humid environment. They also sometimes go inside homes to search for food, or sometimes they just wander in aimlessly, but they usually do so when the conditions outside get really dry.


Boric acid is a natural insecticide that can be used to eliminate earwigs from homes. The powder should be spread around floorboards and narrow places which have cracks in them because they are most likely to hide there. Large colonies of earwigs can be removed by using a vacuum cleaner. This should be done carefully because as soon as the earwig colony is disturbed, it spreads around instantaneously and then it becomes even harder to get rid of it. The contents of the vacuum should then be emptied carefully in a container and disposed of.

There are several preventive measures that can be taken to deter the entry of earwigs into your homes. You should keep your windows and doors fully closed; ensuring that the entrances are sealed properly and no cracks are left open. Since the earwigs are attracted towards moist places, you should clean your house and, assure water isn’t pooled up anywhere. Spread dry gravel next to the foundations and maintain a proper drainage system. Another tactic to keep earwigs out of your home is to use sodium light outside your homes because earwigs are less attracted to it since it emits a light of ‘bluer’ wavelength. Or you can also replace all the white light bulbs in your home with yellow ones, as insects are less attracted towards the yellow light.

Life Cycle of Earwigs

The life cycle of an earwig comprises of the following stages:


The male and female earwig mate in autumn and they live in a nest made in the ground 1 inch deep. The male leaves in the middle of winter after which the female lays almost 50 or more eggs. Unlike other unsocial insects, the maternal earwig is very peculiar because it takes care of its eggs. It protects the eggs when they haven’t hatched and it cleans them regularly too.


The eggs hatch after 7 days into nymphs. The mother brings them food and it protects them from the predators. The nymph undergoes molting, which is the process of shedding skin. They are pale and wingless when they’re born.


The nymph gradually attains the brown or black color of the adult earwig by a process called sclerotization. After almost 5 molts the earwig transforms into an adult. They live up to one year after they’re hatched.

Purpose of Earwigs in Ecosystem

Although it may seem to most of us that earwigs are useless and nothing but a nuisance, they actually play a role in the ecosystem. Being omnivorous, they eat dead and decaying plant and animal matter and thus help in clearing up dead waste. They’re also predators to several other insects. In this way, they also help to maintain a steady population of other insect species. Furthermore, they consume many agricultural pests, thereby protecting crops to some extent.

Earwig Facts

Here are some facts about earwigs that might interest you:

  • They do not transmit diseases.
  • They can be found on all the continents except Antarctica.
  • When they fold their bodies, they resemble a human ear.
  • They are known as ‘battle-twigs’ in some parts of rural England.
  • An earwig turns into a full adult 20 to 70 days after hatching.
  • Some species of earwigs do not have wings and they’re blind.
  • Sometimes earwigs consume their own eggs or nymphs.