Overview

Brief Summary

Description

The earwig is a very common insect, and one that often triggers repulsion due to the unfounded belief that they enter people's ears and burrow into their brains. Their name derives from the Old English word earwicga, which means 'ear creature' (3); the specific part of the scientific name of this species, auricularia also reflects the association with ears (4). One largely unknown explanation for these names is that the hindwings, which are neatly folded concertina fashion below the short, leathery forewings are the shape of human ears, and 'earwig' may be a corruption of 'ear wing' (3). The common European earwig is reddish brown in colour, with a flattened and elongate body, and slender, beaded antennae. An obvious feature of earwigs is the pair of 'pincers' or forceps at the tip of the flexible abdomen. Both sexes have these pincers; in males they are large and very curved, whereas in females they are straight (3). Larvae or 'nymphs' are similar to adults in appearance, but their wings are either absent or small (3).
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Biology

The earwig is a fascinating species, and is one of the few non-social insects to show dedicated parental care of offspring. After mating, the male departs (3) and the female lays 50-90 white eggs in a nest the ground (5). During the winter she defends the eggs against predators and keeps them free of mould by licking them (3). After the larvae (nymphs) hatch, the female cares for them during the early stages. Earwigs undergo a type of development known as incomplete metamorphosis, in which the nymphs progress through a series of moults. The stages between moults are known as 'instars'. The female will have lost her maternal instinct when the nymphs reach their second instar; if they have not left the nest by this time they risk being eaten by their mother (3). Earwigs are typically at their most active at night, when they emerge from under refuges such as log piles, stones and crevices in fences to feed on other insects, detritus, fruit and plant matter (5). They fly very rarely, and can be pests, causing damage to flowers (3).
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Distribution

Range

The earwig is found throughout Europe and has been introduced to the United States of America (5). In Britain, this species is very common (1).
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European earwigs are native to Europe, eastern Asia, and northern Africa. Today, they can be found on all continents except Antarctica. Their geographic range continues to expand, and they have been found on an island in the Pacific Ocean (Island of Guadalupe).

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

Other Geographic Terms: cosmopolitan

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Physical Description

Morphology

European earwigs are brownish red in color and have elongated bodies that range from 12 to 15 mm long. They are equipped with 3 pairs of legs that are yellow to brown in color. European earwigs are well-known for the set of forceps, known as cerci, that protrude from the abdomen and are used for protection and in mating rituals. Forceps display sexual dimorphism, with those of the male being longer and more curved than those of the female. Forceps can also vary between males. Males with shorter and highly curved forceps are called brachylabic, while males with long, straighter forceps are called macrolabic. European earwigs have two antennae with 14 to 15 segments long that contain many important sense organs, as well as a fully developed set of wings.

Range length: 12 to 15 mm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes shaped differently

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Ecology

Habitat

European earwigs are terrestrial organisms that live in mostly temperate climates. They are found in a very large geographic range and at elevations up to 2,824 m. During the day, they prefer places that are dark and moist to hide from predators. Their habitats include forests, agricultural, and suburban areas. During the mating season, females prefer a habitat abundant in rich soils as a place to burrow and deposit her eggs.

Range elevation: 2824 (high) m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural

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Found in a wide range of habitats and is common in gardens (3).
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Trophic Strategy

European earwigs are omnivorous organisms that are both scavengers and predators and feed using their chewing mouthparts. They feed on other organisms, both dead and alive, including aphids, maggots, mites, spiders, and protozoans. They also feed on both living and decaying plants, including lichens, algae, fruits and flowers.

Animal Foods: eggs; insects

Plant Foods: leaves; fruit; flowers; bryophytes; lichens; algae

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Associations

European earwigs are common hosts to several different parasitic organisms including certain tachinid flies (Thriarthria setipennis and Ocytata pallipes) and nematodes (Mermis nigresens>). They also serve as predators of other types of insects such as aphids (Aphidoidea) and some protozoa. European earwigs are also important scavengers in the ecosystem, feeding on almost anything that is edible.

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • nematodes (Mermis nigresens)
  • tachnid flies (Thriarthria setipennis)
  • tachnid flies (Ocytata pallipes)

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European earwigs are preyed upon by several species of tachinid flies (Diptera), as well as certain beetles (Coleoptera). These include ground beetles like Pterostichus vulgaris, P. algidus, Carabus nemoralis, and Calosoma tepidum, as well as flightless tiger beetles (Omus dejeanii). Other predators include toads (Anura), snakes (Serpentes), and certain birds (Aves) like Chinese monal pheasants (Lophophorus ihuysii). European earwigs have several different defense mechanisms used to avoiding predation. These include using their forceps as a weapon and using glands found in the abdomen to secrete chemicals that act as a repellent to predators.

Known Predators:

  • Eisner, T. 1960. Defense Mechanisms of Arthropods. II. The Chemical and Mechanical Weapons of an Earwig.. Psyche: a Journal of Entomology, 67: 63-70. Accessed March 25, 2012 at http://psyche.entclub.org/67/67-062.html.
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Animal / parasitoid / endoparasitoid
larva of Ocytata pallipes is endoparasitoid of Forficula auricularia

Animal / parasitoid / endoparasitoid
larva of Triarthria setipennis is endoparasitoid of Forficula auricularia

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Known prey organisms

Forficula auricularia preys on:
Phytodecta olivacea
Acyrthosiphon spartii
Aphis sarathamni
Arytaina spartii
Arytaina genistae
Leucoptera spartifoliella

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Adult European earwigs release a pheromone that attracts other European earwigs. Nymphs also release pheromones, which encourage mothers to provide care to their young. Forceps are also used as means of communication in mating and to show threatening behavior.

The segmented antennae of European earwigs contain many sense organs such as chemoreceptors that aid in sensing odors. These antennae also contain important tactile hairs which help the organism to get a sense of the surrounding environment. They also have compound eyes, enabling them to use sight as well to perceive their environment.

Communication Channels: chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; chemical

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Life Cycle

Females lay fertilized eggs in a burrow dug into the soil. After about 70 days, the eggs hatch into first instar nymphs that remain in the burrow as the mother provides protection and food. When the young become second instar nymphs, they emerge above ground and find their own food. During the day however, they return to their burrow. Third and fourth instar nymphs live above ground where they develop into adults. Nymphs are similar to adults, but are lighter in color with smaller wings and antennae. As the nymphs progress from one instar to the next, they begin to darken in color, the wings grow, and the antennae gain more segments. Between each stage of development, the young molt by losing their outer cuticle.

Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis

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Life Expectancy

A typical European earwig lives 1 year in the wild. Male earwigs often die before females, when they are kicked out of the burrow during the winter months.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
1 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
1 years.

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Reproduction

European earwig mating rituals usually occur in September, after which mating pairs can usually be found underground in a burrow into the winter. Courtship rituals involving the forceps play a large role in the mating process. Males wave and bob the forceps in the air, stroking and grasping the female. However, the forceps are not used in the actual mating process. If the female accepts the courting male, the male twists his abdomen into position for mating and attaches to the female. During mating, females move around and feed with the male attached to her abdomen. Fertilization of eggs takes place inside the female. Sometimes during mating, another male comes along and uses his forceps to fight off the mating male and take his place with the mating female. Males and females have multiple mates.

Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)

European earwigs typically breed once yearly from September to January. Some females actually breed twice during this time frame. Eggs are fertilized internally inside the female and in late winter or early spring females lay 30 to 55 eggs. The offspring become independent two months after hatching and no longer require parental care. European earwigs reach sexual maturity at 3 months and are able to reproduce in the next breeding season.

Breeding interval: European earwigs usually breed once yearly, but some females breed twice during mating season.

Breeding season: European earwigs breed from September to January.

Range eggs per season: 30 to 55.

Average time to independence: 2 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 months.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous

Female European earwigs hibernate about 5 to 8 mm underground with their eggs, guarding them and keeping them clean from fungi and other pathogens using their mouth. The males are usually driven from the burrow in late winter or early spring and the female proceeds to lay her fertilized eggs. Once the larvae hatch in about 70 days, mothers provide their young with food by regurgitation until they reach the second.

Parental Investment: female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Forficula auricularia

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


No available public DNA sequences.

Download FASTA File
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Forficula auricularia

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 58
Specimens with Barcodes: 71
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

European earwigs are not endangered or threatened.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked

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Status

Widespread and often common (3).
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Threats

Not threatened at present.
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Management

Conservation

Conservation action has not been targeted at this species.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Since European earwigs tend to hide in dark, moist places such as newspapers or inside fruits, they are commonly carried into homes. European earwigs are essentially harmless to humans, but their unpleasant odor and appearance make them unwanted guests in the home. They can also cause damage to fruits and other crops as they feed on them. They are not as nearly destructive as aphids or other pests, but their feeding can still cause considerable damage to crops.

Negative Impacts: crop pest; household pest

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Aphids, a staple in European earwigs' diet, can cause great destruction to apple and pear orchards. European earwigs can help to control the population of aphids, thereby decreasing the amount of pest destruction to the crops.

Positive Impacts: controls pest population

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