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Earwigs - Brain Boredom

Timothy J. Gibb, Ph.D.

The old Anglo Saxon word 'earwicga' literally means "ear creature" and applies to a group of insects we now know as earwigs. How the term originated, we do not really know for sure but legend has it that the common earwig may have entered into the ears of people sleeping on the dirt floors of early European homes. Just entering the ear is one thing but legend also has it that after the earwig enters the ear of some poor slumbering fool, that it then bores into his brain. This is getting personal now! But how true is this legend, and do earwigs really deserve this bad reputation?

Lucky for us who live in the present day of enlightenment when entomologists can assure us that earwigs do NOT gravitate to ears nor do they enjoy boring into the occasional brain. Earwigs are rather, a group of reddish brown insects, approximately 3/4 of an inch in length that possess a distinct set of pincers on their posterior end. While not native to the Americas, they have certainly made themselves at home here and have become a serious nuisance pest in Indiana over the past few years.

Facts about earwigs seldom outweigh the myths. Modern day science has proven that the pincers cannot actually pinch people and are used only for protecting the young from predators and for helping to fold away wings after use. Earwigs feed on decaying plant and other organic material - usually in damp and dark areas. They do not attack or bite people and are not a structural pest of homes. They usually invade gardens, yards and buildings where shade keeps things dark and moist. The amount of damage to live plants attributed to earwigs is usually grossly exaggerated.

Earwigs forage at night and have a unique behavior among insects of caring for their young. The female guards her eggs and cares for the young for the first two weeks of life.

Science has also demonstrated that if populations of these insects find their way into homes or buildings they may either be removed physically or be controlled using insecticides labeled for indoor use. Use all insecticides only according to label directions.

Just in case, however, stuff cotton in ears when sleeping on dirt floors.

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Last updated: 30 July 2002/tlm.
The Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue University.