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European earwig

Forficula auricularia

What do they look like?

European earwigs are brownish red bugs with 3 pairs of yellow or brown legs. They have long bodies that are 12 to 15 mm long. They have forceps, or pincers, coming out from their bodies that they used to protect themselves and for mating. The forceps on males are longer and more curved than on females. Some males have shorter and more curved forceps than others. European earwigs have two antennae with 14 to 15 segments that they use for sensing. They also have fully developed wings. (Rantala, et al., 2006; Slifer, 2005; Suckling, et al., 2006)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range length
    12 to 15 mm
    0.47 to 0.59 in

Where do they live?

European earwigs originally lived in Europe, eastern Asia and northern Africa. Today, live on all continents except Antarctica. The area where they live keeps getting bigger, and they have even been found on the Island of Guadalupe in the Pacific Ocean. (Jacobs, 2009; Pavon-Gozalo, et al., 2011)

What kind of habitat do they need?

European earwigs live on land in areas that have seasons. They live in large areas of the world and can live up to 2,824 m in elevation. During the day, they like to hide from predators in dark, moist places like forests, farms, and around where humans live. In the mating season, females burrow and lay their eggs in rich soils. (Pavon-Gozalo, et al., 2011; Weems and Skelley, 2007)

  • Range elevation
    2824 (high) m
    9265.09 (high) ft

How do they grow?

Females lay eggs in a burrow they dig in the soil. About 70 days later, the eggs hatch into nymphs in their first stage of development, which is called the first instar. They look like adults, but are lighter and have smaller wings and antennae. They grow their antenna and get darker as they get older. At this time, they stay in the burrow and the mother protects and feeds them. When they progress to the second stage of development, they come above ground at night and find their own food. They still return to the burrow at night. In the third and fourth developmental stages, they they live above ground and grow into adults. Between each stage of development, the young lose their outer covering layer and grow a new one. (Alston and Tebeau, 2011; Capinera, 2008; Jacobs, 2009)

How do they reproduce?

European earwigs usually go through their mating rituals in September, and then burrow underground together into the winter. They use their forceps, which are pincers, to attract mates. Males wave and bob the forceps in the air. Sometimes, the forceps are also used to fight off rival males. Both males and females have more than one mate. (Avery, et al., 2002; Walker and Fell, 2001)

European earwigs typically breed once a year between September and January. Some females actually breed twice during this same time. Females lay 30 to 55 eggs in late winter or early spring. Two months later, the young are independent of their parents. European earwigs are able to reproduce in the breeding season that comes after they turn 3 months old. (Capinera, 2008; Jacobs, 2009; Pellitteri, 1999)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    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

Female European earwigs hibernate during the winter to conserve energy. They are found around 5 to 8 mm underground with their eggs. They guard the eggs and clean fungi and pathogens from them using their mouths. Males usually get driven out of the burrow in late winter or early spring, and then the female lays her eggs. The larvae take about 70 days to hatch, and then the mothers feed their young. They give them regurgitated food that they spit back up until they reach the second stage of development. (Kolliker, 2007; Staerkle and Kolliker, 2008; Weems and Skelley, 2007)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

How long do they live?

European earwigs lives about 1 year in the wild. Males often die before females, when they are kicked out of the burrow in the winter. (Avery, et al., 2002)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 years

How do they behave?

European earwigs are nocturnal, so they are active at night. They spend the day hiding in dark, moist places like under rocks or potted plants, in woodpiles, fruits, flowers or similar spots. At night, they come out to hunt or scavenge for food. They are not very good at flying so they move around mostly by crawling or human transportation. Females spend the mating season living alone, but European earwigs group together in large groups in the other months. They are considered sub-social because they care for their young. They protect their young or themselves by snapping their forceps together like a weapon. ("Common European Earwig", 2012; Crumb, et al., 1941; Jacobs, 2009; Kolliker, 2007)

Home Range

European earwigs are often found far away from where they live because they hide in objects owned by humans like newspapers. ("Earwigs", 2011)

How do they communicate with each other?

European earwigs use chemicals called pheromones to attract other European earwigs. Nymphs also give off these chemicals, but they use them to encourage their mothers to care for them. They also communicate with their forceps, both in mating and as a threat. European earwigs pick up these odors mostly with receptors on their antennae. Their antennae also have touch hairs which help them understand their environment. Finally, they have compound eyes which help them perceive their environment. (Farmer, 2010; Hehar, 1999; Slifer, 2005)

What do they eat?

European earwigs are omnivorous and scavengers, so they eat both plants and animals that are dead or alive. They eat aphids, maggots, mites, spiders, and one-celled animals. They also feed on lichens, algae, fruits and flowers. (Crumb, et al., 1941; Rammel, 1998)

  • Animal Foods
  • eggs
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • fruit
  • flowers
  • bryophytes
  • lichens
  • algae

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

European earwigs are eaten by different kinds of flies and some beetles. Ground beetles that eat them are called Pterostichus vulgaris, P. algidus, Carabus nemoralis, and Calosoma tepidum, and also flightless tiger beetles. Other predators include toads, snakes, and certain birds like Chinese monal pheasants. European earwigs avoid predators using their forceps as a weapon, and by giving off chemicals that repel predators. (Crumb, et al., 1941; Eisner, 1960)

  • Known Predators
    • ground beetles (Pterostichus vulgaris)
    • ground beetles (Pterotichus algidus)
    • ground beetles (Carabus nemoralis)
    • ground beetles (Calosoma tepidum)
    • flightless tiger beetles (Omus dejeanii)
    • toads (Anura)
    • snakes (Serpentes)
    • birds (Aves)
    • Chinese monal pheasants (Lophophorus ihuysii)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

European earwigs get infected with different parasitic flies called Thriarthria setipennis and Ocytata pallipes, and one kind of roundworms. They are predators for insects like aphids and some protozoa. They are scavengers, and will eat almost anything available. (Crumb, et al., 1941; Suckling, et al., 2006; Zack, et al., 2011)

Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host
  • nematodes (Mermis nigresens)
  • tachnid flies (Thriarthria setipennis)
  • tachnid flies (Ocytata pallipes)

Do they cause problems?

European earwigs hide in dark, moist places like newspapers or fruits, so they are commonly carried into homes. They are not harmful to humans, but have a bad smell and are not attractive to look at. They can also cause damage to fruits or other crops if they eat them, even though they don't cause as much damages as as aphids. (Crumb, et al., 1941; Weems and Skelley, 2007)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • crop pest
  • household pest

How do they interact with us?

European earwigs eat a lot of aphids, which can destroy pear and apple orchards. Because they reduce the number of aphids, they reduce damage to crops. (Suckling, et al., 2006)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

European earwigs are not endangered or threatened.

Some more information...

Some people think earwigs crawl into people's ears, but this has only happened a few times as far as we know. Earwigs get their name because the back wings are shaped like ears. ("Common European Earwig", 2012; Crumb, et al., 1941; Jacobs, 2009; Kolliker, 2007)


Morgan Vincent (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.


2012. "Common European Earwig" (On-line video). Accessed April 04, 2012 at

2011. "Earwigs" (On-line). Accessed March 26, 2012 at

Alston, D., A. Tebeau. 2011. "European Earwig (Forficula auricularia)" (On-line). Accessed February 02, 2012 at

Avery, R., R. Cave, F. Collins, J. Day, T. Day, B. Giles, L. Gray, T. Harris, R. Hoey, T. Holt, R. Houston, S. Hurley, T. Jackson, V. Jenkins, J. McDonald, A. Wheeler, M. Weedon, A. Ward, M. Turner, S. Swaby, S. Stefanni, R. McDonald, J. Martin, T. Newman, J. Pimenta, K. Pitts, S. Rossiter, S. Roy, A. Seymour, S. Shalla. 2002. The International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation. Accessed March 25, 2012 at

Capinera, J. 2008. Encyclopedia of Entomology. Gainesville, FL: Springer Science+Business Media B.V.. Accessed March 21, 2012 at

Cranshaw, W. 2011. "European Earwig" (On-line). Accessed February 02, 2012 at

Crumb, S., P. Eide, A. Bonn. 1941. The European Earwig. Beltsville, MD: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Accessed February 23, 2012 at

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

Farmer, J. 2010. The Book of Nature Study. London: London, Caxton Publishing Company. Accessed April 04, 2012 at


Jacobs, S. 2009. "European Earwig" (On-line). Accessed February 02, 2012 at

Kolliker, M. 2007. Benefits and costs of earwig (Forficula auricularia) family life. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 61/9: 1489-1497. Accessed February 02, 2012 at

Pavon-Gozalo, P., B. Mila, P. Aleixandre, J. Calderon, A. Zaldivar-Riveron, J. Hernandez-Montoya, M. Garcia-Paris. 2011. INVASION OF TWO WIDELY SEPARATED AREAS OF MEXICO BY FORFICULA AURICULARIA (DERMAPTERA: FORFICULIDAE). Florida Entomologist, 94/4: 1088-1090. Accessed February 23, 2012 at

Pellitteri, P. 1999. "Controlling Earwigs" (On-line). Accessed March 25, 2012 at

Radesater, T., H. Halldorsdottir. 2010. Two Male Types of the Common Earwig: Male-male Competition and Mating Success. Ethology, 95/2: 89-96. Accessed February 23, 2012 at

Rammel, G. 1998. "The Earwigs (Dermaptera)" (On-line). Accessed March 26, 2012 at

Rantala, M., D. Roff, L. Rantala. 2006. Forceps size and immune function in the earwig Forficula auricularia L.. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 90/3: 509-516. Accessed February 02, 2012 at

Slifer, E. 2005. Sense Organs on the Antenna1 Flagella of Earwigs (Dermaptera) with Special Reference to those of Forficula auricularia. Journal of Morphology, 122/1: 63-80. Accessed February 23, 2012 at

Staerkle, M., M. Kolliker. 2008. Maternal Food Regurgitation to Nymphs in Earwigs (Forficula auricularia). Ethology, 114/9: 844-850. Accessed March 21, 2012 at

Suckling, D., G. Burnip, J. Hackett, J. Daly. 2006. Frass sampling and baiting indicate European earwig (Forficula auricularia) foraging in orchards. Journal of Applied Entomology, 130/5: 263-267. Accessed February 23, 2012 at

Walker, K., R. Fell. 2001. Courtship Roles of Male and Female European Earwigs, Forficula auricularia L. (Dermaptera: Forficulidae), and Sexual Use of Forceps. Journal of Insect Behavior, 14/1: 1-17. Accessed March 19, 2012 at

Weems, H., P. Skelley. 2007. "European Earwig, Forficula auricularia Linnaeus (Insecta: Dermaptera: Forficulidae)" (On-line). Accessed February 02, 2012 at

Zack, R., D. Strenge, P. Landolt, L. Chris. 2011. EUROPEAN EARWIG, FORFICULA AURICULARIA L. (DERMAPTERA: FORFICULIDAE), AT THE HANFORD REACH NATIONAL MONUMENT, WASHINGTON STATE. Western North American Naturalist, 70/4: 441-445. Accessed February 02, 2012 at

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Vincent, M. 2013. "Forficula auricularia" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 04, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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