Earwigs (Dermaptera) are one of the more common insect groups that can be found in most locations globally. Most species range in size from between 10mm and 80mm in the case of one species in particular. There are known to be 1800 species, which are classified into ten sub-families. The most common species however tend to be around 15mm, and are also known as pincher bugs and ear pinchers.
All earwigs have the same basic body shape, which is slender and flattened, with a set of pincers at the end of their abdomens. Most species also have a leathery set of wing coverings, concealing a larger set of folded wings beneath. Although many species are capable of flight, very few species ever actually take to the air. This is thought to be due to the fact that they are difficult to fold away after use, as well as making them a prime target for predatory birds.
Despite their threatening appearance, they are not usually aggressive, and tend to run for cover when encountered in or around the home. The set of pincers on their tails is actually used more for defense that for attacking other insects. They have however been observed for use in holding prey, as well as mating in some species. One of the ways to determine sex in earwigs is that the pincers tend to be more rounded and curved in males, whereas females tend to be straighter.
Most earwig species are omnivorous, and mainly tend to eat plants rather then actively hunting for prey. The prey that they do eat tends to be around half the size of themselves and smaller, as they have rather small mouth parts for attacking and killing much larger. The plant species that they feed on include most types of fruit, crops and green shoots.
Despite the fact that earwigs feed on crops however, they aren’t usually thought of as to much of a threat because they don’t accumulate in large enough numbers to actually threaten an entire crop. As well as which, they are often considered beneficial as they eat other species that may also feed on crops and garden plants.
The most common place to find earwigs is usually hidden away in rotting wood, old brickwork, or hidden inside the stems of plants. They are usually naturally nocturnal, and so aren’t often encountered actively moving around. More often their hiding places tend to be in conflict with human settlements, and they are disturbed by human intrusion.
Earwigs first got their name because of the misguided belief that they burrowed into peoples ears in order to lay their eggs. This belief likely arose sometimes in the middle ages in Britain, and has since been largely discredited. They are known to lurk in warm, dark places, although it is unlikely that they would ever knowingly enter a humans ear canal.
Earwigs are often found in the home, particularly in basement areas where they are less likely to be disturbed. If cornered they often raise their pincers above their heads in a threatening gesture, and may pinch if you get too close. The actual pinches that they are capable of delivering are usually not that painful, although may be distressing for some people. As with most insect bites however, often the appearances are a lot worse than the reality.
The most impressive species of earwig is the Saint Helena earwig (Labidura herculeana), found only on the tiny island of Saint Helena. It can reach sizes upwards of 80mm, making it the largest species yet discovered, and is also thought to be close to extinction. It is thought to spend most of its time in deep burrows, and has not been seen alive since 1967.
If you are finding more earwigs that you would like in your home, then the easiest way to remove them is simply to remove areas of cover and damp places. Also Diatomaceous earth is known to be an effective pest control method when left in small piles around likely infestation spots. This fins powdery substance sticks to the outer shell of insects like earwigs, and essentially dehydrates them my removing moisture from their bodies.