Earwigs

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Earwigs

Earwigs are long-bodied insects with chewing mouthparts and many-jointed antennae in the order Dermaptera. Earwigs have small, vestigial forewings modified into a wing case, but their membranous hindwings are large, folded, and functional, although they are not often used for flying. Earwigs hatch into nymphs that closely resemble the adults, only they are much smaller. Metamorphosis in earwigs is simple, with no radical changes in shape during development from the nymphal stages to the adult form.

The most readily distinguishing characteristic of earwigs is the pair of unjointed forcepslike structures that terminate their abdomen. These unusual organs are modified from common insect structures known as cerci, and they differ between the sexes, those of females having less curvature. The pincers are brandished when earwigs are disturbed, and can give a significant pinch to the finger, so they are clearly useful in defense. The pincers may also have other uses, possibly in folding the rather complicated wings after a flight.

Earwigs are nocturnal animals, and they hide during the day in dark damp places. Most species of the more than 1, 200 species of earwigs are scavengers of a wide range of organic debris, including carrion. Some species are herbivorous, some are opportunistic predators of other insects, and a few, specialized species are parasites of mammals.

The most common native earwig in Europe is Forficula auricularia, a species that is now also widespread in North America, New Zealand, and elsewhere due to accidental introductions by humans. The European earwig is omnivorous, eating a wide range of dead organic matter, and also preying on other insects. The female of this species broods her eggs and young hatchlings. During summers when the European earwig is particularly abundant, it may be considered a pest because of its ubiquitous presence in flower gardens, under all manner of moist things, in basements and kitchens, and in laundry hanging on clotheslines. These earwigs may damage vegetables and flowers during their feeding, but they are not really an important pest. In fact, the European earwig may be beneficial in some respects, by cleaning up organic debris, and perhaps by preying on other, more important insect pests.

A total of 18 species of earwigs occur in North America. The seaside earwig (Anisolabis maritima ) is a native species that occurs on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America. The red-legged earwig (Euborellia annulipes ), striped earwig (Labidura bidens ), and handsome earwig (Prolabia pulchella ) occur in the southern United States. The toothed earwig (Spongovostox apicedentatus ) occurs in dry habitats in the southwestern states. The little earwig (Labia minor ) is another species that was introduced from Europe.

Some species of earwigs have relatively unusual, specialized lifestyles. Arixenia is a small earwig that is a viviparous, giving birth to live young. This species is an ectoparasite of the Indian bat (Cheiromeles torquatus ). Hemimerus is also a small viviparous earwig, and a blind ectoparasite of the giant rat (Cricetomys gambianus ) of west Africa.

Earwigs received their common name from the folk belief that these insects would sometimes crawl into the ears of people as they slept, seeking refuge in those dark, moist cavities. This may, indeed, sometimes occur, and it would certainly be disconcerting to have an earwig, or any other insect in ones ear. However, there is no evidence that earwigs in the ear are a common problem, except as very rare accidents.

Bill Freedman

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Earwigs

Earwigs are long-bodied insects with chewing mouthparts and many-jointed antennae in the order Dermaptera. Earwigs have small, vestigial forewings modified into a wing case, but their membranous hind-wings are large, folded, and functional, although they are not often used for flying. Earwigs hatch into nymphs which closely resemble the adults, only they are much smaller. Metamorphosis in earwigs is simple, with no radical changes in shape during development from the nymphal stages to the adult form.

The most readily distinguishing characteristic of earwigs is the pair of unjointed, forceps-like structures that terminate their abdomen. These unusual organs are modified from common insect structures known as cerci, and they differ between the sexes, those of females having less curvature. The pincers are brandished when earwigs are disturbed, and can give a significant pinch to the finger, so they are clearly useful in defense. The pincers may also have other uses, possibly in folding the rather complicated wings after a flight.

Earwigs are nocturnal animals, and they hide during the day in dark, damp places. Most species of the more than 1,200 species of earwigs are scavengers of a wide range of organic debris, including carrion. Some species are herbivorous, some are opportunistic predators of other insects, and a few, specialized species are parasites of mammals .

The most common native earwig in Europe is Forficula auricularia, a species that is now also widespread in North America , New Zealand, and elsewhere due to accidental introductions by humans. The European earwig is omnivorous, eating a wide range of dead organic matter , and also preying on other insects. The female of this species broods her eggs and young hatchlings. During summers when the European earwig is particularly abundant, it may be considered a pest because of its ubiquitous presence in flower gardens, under all manner of moist things, in basements and kitchens, and in laundry hanging on clotheslines. These earwigs may damage vegetables and flowers during their feeding, but they are not really an important pest. In fact, the European earwig may be beneficial in some respects, by cleaning up organic debris, and perhaps by preying on other, more important insect pests .

A total of 18 species of earwigs occur in North America. The seaside earwig (Anisolabis maritima) is a native species that occurs on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America. The red-legged earwig (Euborellia annulipes), striped earwig (Labidura bidens), and handsome earwig (Prolabia pulchella) occur in the southern United States. The toothed earwig (Spongovostox apicedentatus) occurs in dry habitats in the southwestern states. The little earwig (Labia minor) is another species that was introduced from Europe.

Some species of earwigs have relatively unusual, specialized lifestyles. Arixenia is a small earwig that is a viviparous breeder, giving birth to live young. This species is an ectoparasite of the Indian bat (Cheiromeles torquatus). Hemimerus is also a small, viviparous earwig, and a blind ectoparasite of the giant rat (Cricetomys gambianus) of west Africa .

Earwigs received their common name from the folk belief that these insects would sometimes crawl into the ears of people as they slept, seeking refuge in those dark, moist cavities. This may, indeed, sometimes occur, and it would certainly be disconcerting to have an earwig, or any other insect in one's ear . However, there is no evidence that earwigs in the ear are a common problem, except as very rare accidents.

Bill Freedman

views updated

earwig, common name for any of the smooth, elongated insects of the order Dermaptera. Earwigs are small, with pairs of horny, forcepslike abdominal appendages, larger in the male than in the female, and short, leathery forewings that cover the membranous hindwings when folded. Some of the 900 species lack wings; the winged species rarely fly. Many tropical earwigs are brightly colored and carnivorous, even cannibalistic. The common earwig of temperate climates is native to Europe but has spread widely and seems destined to become cosmopolitan in distribution. Most species feed on plants and some are serious pests; others are predaceous or scavengers. The pincers of the male are used in courtship battles with other males. The female is unusual in that it guards its eggs and tends the young, which molt from 4 to 6 times during metamorphosis. The superstition that earwigs crawl through the ears and into the brains of sleeping persons probably derives from their nocturnal habits and the tarry or waxy odor of a secretion of their abdominal glands. A fossil earwig links the order to ancient cockroaches. Earwigs are classified in the phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta, order Dermaptera.

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Dermaptera(earwigs; class Insecta, subclass Pterygota) Order of elongate, flattened, exopterygote insects whose major diagnostic features include cerci which are modified as a pair of forceps on the end of the mobile, telescopic abdomen; and fore wings which are reduced as short tegmina, beneath which the large, membranaceous hind wings are intricately folded, although many species are wingless. Earwigs are interesting in that they show parental care of offspring. They are found in crevices, particularly among plant debris, are nocturnal, and feed on living and dead plant and animal material. Some species are pests, damaging flowers and fruit. About 1200 species have been described, most of them occurring in the tropics and warm-temperate regions.

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earwig insect so called because it is supposed to penetrate the ear. OE. ēarwicga, f. ēare EAR1 + wicga earwig, prob. rel. to WIGGLE. For the form of wicga cf. DOG.

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earwigbig, brig, dig, fig, frig, gig, grig, jig, lig, pig, prig, rig, snig, sprig, swig, tig, trig, twig, Whig, wig •Liebig • shindig • whirligig •thingamajig • Pfennig • Gehrig •thimblerig • Meurig • oilrig • Leipzig •Schleswig • bigwig • periwig • Ludwig •earwig • Danzig • Zagazig

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Dermaptera An order of insects comprising the earwigs. Earwigs typically have long thin cylindrical bodies with biting mouthparts and a stout pair of curved forceps (cerci) at the tip of the abdomen, used for catching prey and in courtship. Some species have a single pair of wings, which at rest are folded back over the abdomen like a fan; others are wingless. Most earwigs are nocturnal and omnivorous.

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ear·wig / ˈirˌwig/ • n. a small elongated insect (order Dermaptera) with a pair of terminal appendages that resemble pincers.

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earwig Slender, flattened, brownish-black insect found in crevices and under tree bark. There are some 900 winged and wingless species worldwide. All have a pair of forceps at the hind end of the abdomen. Order Dermaptera; genus Forficula.