Insect guide > Earwigs


Earwigs(Order Euplexoptera.)
These are the insects which are properly known by the vernacular name, earwigs. They are so distinct in structure from all other insects that they are now placed in an order by themselves, although formerly they were considered as belonging to the Orthoptera. They apparently have four wings, but the first pair are horny and small and resemble somewhat the elytra of beetles. The second pair are very curiously folded, but when expanded are almost circular in shape and possess veins which radiate from a common center. The mouth-parts are for biting and the metalnorphoses are incomplete. The most peculiar structure of the earwigs, however, is the pair of forceps at the end of the abdomen. These forceps are sometimes very large and when opened give the insect a somewhat terrifying appearance.
They are not used, however, as weapons of offense although with some of the earwigs which have wings (by no means all of them are winged) one of the forceps is used to assist in folding the hind wing, with the wingless species no use for these forceps has been discovered.

Why they should have been evolved is a mystery. The name earwig is derived from the general idea amongst uneducated people that these insects seek to enter the ears of human beings, causing injury to the sense of hearing. This idea is a very old one and, of course, is totally unfounded, for the earwigs are perfectly harmless. The antiquity of this superstition and the widespread belief in it are evidenced by the fact that these insects have practically the same name in many languages. The Dutch, German, Swedish, Danish, French, Portugese and Spanish all give it a name with practically this same meaning. Our own use of it comes from the Anglo-saxon earwicga. In the U.S., especially in the South, the same name is applied to the common house centipede. An early advocate of the doctrine of similia similibus curantur anticipated Hahneman by prescribing earwigs, dried, pulverized and mixed with the urine of a hare, as a remedy for deafness.

There are very few earwigs in the Northern States of the United States. Some, however, appear in the South and along the Pacific slope, but no damage has been reported from these insects in this country. In Europe, however, and particularly in England, earwigs are said to be injurious and are said to nibble the petals of flowers. There is considerable doubt, however, as to the accuracy of this inference, which seems to have been made by gardeners. The entomologists who have studied the question of the food of the earwigs have been unable to find that they do anything of the sort. They are really carnivorous, living upon dead insects, upon small snails, and upon small living caterpillars.

It is suggested that the gardeners have held the earwigs responsible for damage which was really done by other insects, perhaps even the very ones upon which the earwigs have preyed. A curious habit which earwigs are said to possess is that the females brood over the eggs. They take the greatest care of them, collect them when scattered and move them from place to place in an endeavor to secure the best position for their development. When the eggs are hatched, however, the female does not care for her young. From this fact it would seem that the female earwig is not as good a mother as the female Psocus, which as we shall show, keeps her young by her after hatching and in fact seems to show a decided appreciation of family ties. All of the earwigs are contained in the single family Forficulidae.