Ask The Entomologist

Earwigs. They’re everywhere, no?

Just yesterday morning I found one curled up inside the handle of my razor.

It’s been a good year for earwigs here, a rather moist spring. If you’ve got dead wood near your house or any other nice pile of decaying plants (even mulch), you’ve likely noticed them yourself.

Perhaps you’ve heard that earwigs crawl into sleeping people’s ears to feed… people have been telling that story for quite a while! The name “earwig” comes from Old English: either from “ēarewicga” which means something like “ear wriggler” or “ēarewic” meaning “ear dweller”. I’m glad to report that earwigs don’t *actually* feed when they do this… but they are known to crawl into ears from time to time.

All insects are crustacean refugees, you see. The first insect ancestors abandoned the rest of their crustacean kin to flee the water and its predators long, long ago. Though insects have lived on land for a long time now, moisture is still important for their survival. Insects have a protective wax layer that prevents water loss, but if this gets damaged it’s easy for them to dry out. Therefore, many insects prefer to be in a moist environment. Our ears can qualify, in the absence of better housing prospects. Today, straw mattresses being much less common than they once were, it’s unlikely that your ears will gain new tenants. Perhaps if you go camping and skip the tent…

Now that we’re in the full heat and dryness of summer, earwigs may seek shelter inside our homes, often in damp, dark places. (Think of that pile of dirty laundry in your kids’ room, the wet spot under the sink, damaged potatoes in the pantry, etc). While they don’t hurt much that wasn’t already damaged, they may begin to harm roots on well-watered houseplants.

Personally, I think that earwigs are beautiful. And remarkable – mother earwigs take good care of their offspring, something rather rare in non-social insects. They rotate the eggs, gently cleaning them of fungus, retrieve food for their young once they’ve hatched, and eventually lead the kids out of their burrow on foraging expeditions. Young earwigs play nicely with each other as well – the kids help feed each other when mom’s out.

I’ve got a soft spot for good parents, human and insect alike.

Next week – earwig pest control advice.

What’s the strangest place you’ve seen an earwig?

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