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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
European earwigs are often found far away from where they live because they hide in objects owned by humans like newspapers. ("Earwigs", 2011)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
European earwigs are not endangered or threatened.
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.
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