The sight of an earwig indoors can be unsettling. Many people wonder what this slender, flexible insect even is, with its fierce-looking pincers and its propensity to appear in bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms. Alone or in numbers, they immediately have a slightly threatening air, but can they really harm people with those pincers or anything else?
Naming the Earwig
While scare mongers love to cite the myth that earwigs will tunnel into your ears, a more likely explanation for the name comes from one of the insect’s characteristics that is rarely seen. Mature earwigs of many species have wings. Most of the time, they keep their pleated, fan-shaped hind wings neatly tucked beneath short, leathery front wings. However, when both wings are fully spread, the shape resembles a pair of ears. The name may also be rooted in the Anglo-Saxon ear wicka, which refers to their presence on ears of rye grain.
Purpose of the Pincers
The earwig is so distinct that it often serves as a crossword puzzle answer to the clue “insect with pincers.” The pincers are actually called cerci and are a pair of working, claw-like forceps attached at the rear of the insect’s abdomen. Males typically have larger, more curved pincers while females often have smaller, straight-sided pincers. Earwigs use the pincers to:
- groom themselves
- atch or grip prey
- defend themselves
- court or mate with other earwigs
- aid them in folding and tucking their wings properly
Earwig Bites and Pinches
While a threatened or trapped earwig may brandish their cerci like weapons or even attempt to pinch a person, the pincers are highly unlikely to be able to pierce human skin. Moreover, earwigs have no poison or venom. What a few species—including the striped earwig common to Southern California—do have, however, are glands that can release an offensive smell that has been compared to the odor of rotting flesh. This defensive mechanism seems to be an effective deterrent to predators like lizards as well as humans. This is why crushing or smashing earwigs is not recommended.
Controlling Earwig Populations
Earwigs prefer damp, moist areas with easy access to water. Outside, a keen eye can find them under piles of leaves, mulch, firewood or other debris. As nocturnal feeders, they spend most of their day in concealment. In gardens, they can prove beneficial by keeping aphid populations at bay, but they can also take a toll on vegetation, especially fruit and flower crops.
When weather conditions turn too hot, too dry or too cold, earwigs may seek more habitable shelter. Inside, homeowners often discover earwigs in sinks or tubs, but the insects may wander into any part of a home. While they don’t carry disease and can’t sting or bite, in numbers they can be counted as an annoying pest.
If earwigs or other household pests are invading your home or business, Premium Pest and Termite Control is ready to help. We can help you identify how pests are entering your home, where they’re hiding and what you can do to treat them. Contact our team and let our professionals get rid of your earwig worries. Whatever your pest control problems may be, we have a solution.
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