Overview

Brief Summary

Insects in the order Dermaptera are commonly known as earwigs. Roughly 2000 species of earwigs have been described. Earwigs are elongate and slender insects that are typically brown or black (although other colors, such as metallic green, are seen in a few species) and have the front pair of wings reduced and leathery (some species are wingless). The abdomen is very flexible, with a pair of unsegmented (and usually forceps-like) cerci at the tip. Body length, including cerci, ranges from around 4 mm to 80 mm (the giant being the St. Helena Giant Earwig, Labidura herculeana). Earwigs are found throughout the world (with the exception of polar regions), but are most diverse in the tropics.

Most earwigs are omnivorous, but predominantly phytophagous (plant-eating) or predacious species are also known. Some species live on decaying material. The Hemimerina is a group of around 10 known species of wingless and blind live-bearing earwigs that live on giant tropical African rats and feed on skin flakes and fungi on the rats without harming them. The Arixenina includes around 5 known species of wingless and nearly blind live-bearing earwigs that live on bats in the Malay Archipelago and feed on their skin gland secretions and occasionally on dead insects.

Earwigs are positively thigmotactic (i.e., they like to be tucked into cozy spaces) and frequent (humid) crevices of all kinds, such as under bark, between leaves, and beneath stones. The behavior of earwigs is complex and the cerci often play an important role. They are used to open the wings, to capture prey, and for defense. Females show maternal care (probably in all species, although only a few have actually been studied). In contrast to the live-bearing Hemimerina and Arixenina, members of the third earwig group with living representatives, the Forficulina (which includes nearly all known earwig species), are generally oviparous (egg-laying).

The idea that earwigs enter people's ears is an old myth.

An excellent resource on earwigs, including species checklists for many countries, is the online Earwig Research Centre.

(Haas 1996)

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Dermaptera Overview

Earwigs are tropical insects that can be found all over the world with the exception of the polar regions. Earwigs undergo incomplete metamorphosis.  Female earwigs care for her eggs and young.  The nymphs become independent when they are halfway to adulthood.  The nymphs go through four to five instars (molts) before becoming an adult.  Earwigs feed on fungi, decaying material, or dead insects depending on the species.  They are omnivorous, but some species are ectoparasites to vertebrates.  They can be found under bark or stones.  They are nocturnal with antennae and forceps.  There are winged and wingless varieties in the Order Dermaptera.  If threatened, they emit a fluid with a terrible odor to ward off potential predators.  Earwigs can be found in the fossil record as far back as the Jurassic.

  • Borror, Donald, Charles Triplehorn, and Norman Johnson. An Introduction to the Study of Insects. 6th ed. Saunders College Publishing, 1989. 242-246. Print.
  • Capinera, John. "Earwigs (Dermaptera)." Encyclopedia of Entomology. 4. 2008.
  • "Earwig." Wikipedia. 2013. .
  • Haas, Fabian. 1996. Dermaptera. Earwigs. Version 18 July 1996 (under construction). http://tolweb.org/Dermaptera/8254/1996.07.18 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/
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Distribution

Geographic Range

Earwigs are found in temperate regions to the tropics and subtropics. Of the approximately 1,800 species that exist worldwide, 28 species are found in the United States, and 6 species are found in the Great Lakes region. Those in the Great Lakes region are introduced from southern areas.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); neotropical (Native ); australian (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Range length: 4.0 to 25.0 mm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes shaped differently

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Ecology

Habitat

These nocturnal insects hide in cracks, crevices, under bark, and in debris during the day. If present in sufficient numbers, earwigs can be found hiding almost anywhere in the homes of humans.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp ; bog

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Earwigs feed mainly on dead or decaying vegetable matter, and they will feed on living plants. They eat plant leaves, algae, fungi, sprouts and seedlings, flower petals, pollen, and corn silks. A few species are predators, eating other live Insecta and small invertebrates. The earwig will grasp its prey with its cerci, the pinchers at the end of its abdomen, and then bend so that the prey is within reach of its mouth. Earwigs will also scavenge dead insects and small invertebrates.

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Dermapterans are contributors to biodegradation in that they are feeders of decaying organic matter.

Ecosystem Impact: biodegradation

Species Used as Host:

  • bats in southeast Asia
  • South African rodents

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • bats in southeast Asia

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Animal / predator
Dermaptera is predator of Aphididae

Animal / pathogen
Entomophthora forficulae var. major infects adult of Dermaptera

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
larva of Mermis nigrescens endoparasitises body cavity of Dermaptera

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Known predators

  • Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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Known prey organisms

Dermaptera (Dermaptera 2 families 2 spp.) preys on:
live leaves

Based on studies in:
Puerto Rico, El Verde (Rainforest)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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Life History and Behavior

Life Cycle

Development

Metamorphosis is simple with three stages of development. Temperature is important in controlling the rate of development which can range from 20 to 70 days. In the spring, the female will lay eggs. By late summer to early fall, the nymphs are fully grown. Adult earwigs overwinter.

Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis

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Reproduction

Breeding interval: In temperate regions, there are usually two generations of earwigs produced annually.

Breeding season: spring through fall

Range eggs per season: 20.0 to 50.0.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 20.0 to 70.0 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 20.0 to 70.0 days.

Key Reproductive Features: semelparous ; seasonal breeding ; sexual ; oviparous ; sperm-storing

The female will guard the clusters of eggs until they hatch. In addition, she will care for her brood until the second or third instar stage. After this, the female may cannibalize the young. Young mature after four or five molts.

Parental Investment: female parental care

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
                                        
Specimen Records:790Public Records:399
Specimens with Sequences:451Public Species:8
Specimens with Barcodes:421Public BINs:42
Species:26         
Species With Barcodes:16         
          
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Barcode data

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Locations of barcode samples

Collection Sites: world map showing specimen collection locations for Dermaptera

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Some earwigs may cause damage to flowers and vegetables, ornamental tress and shrubs. They are especially fond of corn. They have even been found in honey in beehives. When their populations increase, earwigs are found in homes, hiding in household items, foodstuffs, and most any other place, much to the disdain of humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Earwigs eliminate decaying organic materials from the environment.

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