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What Are Earwigs?

Earwigs are small, elongated insects belonging to the order Dermaptera. They are characterized by their pincer-like cerci at the tip of their abdomen, which can resemble the forceps or pinchers of some insects. These pincers are primarily used for defense, capturing prey, and mating, rather than harming humans. Earwigs range in size from a few millimeters to about 50 millimeters, with most species being about 5 to 25 millimeters long.

Earwigs are known for their distinctive appearance, including membranous wings folded underneath hardened forewings, which cover and protect their body. Although they possess wings, they are not strong fliers and are more adept at crawling.

These insects are omnivorous and feed on a variety of organic materials, including decaying plant matter, other insects, and in some cases, young plants. While their name suggests that they might crawl into human ears, this is a rare occurrence and largely a myth.

Earwigs are generally nocturnal, preferring to be active at night. They are often found in dark and damp habitats, such as under leaves, logs, rocks, and in the soil. They play a role in ecosystems by aiding in the decomposition of organic matter and serving as a food source for various predators.

Earwigs are small insects characterized by their pincer-like cerci, primarily found in dark and damp environments, and they play a role in ecosystem processes such as decomposition and as prey for other organisms. Their reputation for crawling into human ears is largely a misconception.

What Types Of Earwigs Are There?

Earwigs are a diverse group of insects, with over 2,000 species known worldwide. They vary in size, coloration, and behavior, but most can be categorized into two main families: Forficulidae and Spongiphoridae. Here's a brief overview of these two major families and some notable species:


This is the larger and more widely recognized family of earwigs. Common species include:

  • European Earwig (Forficula auricularia): European earwigs are the most well-known earwig species, originally from Europe, but are now found in many parts of the world. It has distinctive pincers and is often found in gardens.
  • Ring-legged Earwig (Euborellia annulipes): A species found in North America, often distinguished by its banded legs.
  • Common Earwig (Forficula auricularia): This species is found in various parts of North America, Europe, and Asia.


This is a smaller family of earwigs, and its members generally have less prominent pincers. Common species include:

  • Striped Earwig (Labidura riparia): The striped earwig is a notable species in this family. It is found in parts of North America and is known for its elongated shape and less-pronounced pincers.

While there are many species of earwigs, the specific types you encounter can vary depending on your geographical location. The basic anatomy and behaviors of earwigs, including their pincer-like cerci, are shared by most species, but their appearances and habits may differ to some extent.

What Do Earwigs Look Like?

Earwigs are small insects with distinctive features that make them relatively easy to identify. Here's a detailed description of their appearance:

  • Body Shape: Earwigs have an elongated, slender body that can range in size from a few millimeters to about 50 millimeters. Most species are around 5 to 25 millimeters in length.
  • Color: They are typically dark brown to black in color, although some species may be reddish-brown or lighter shades.
  • Antennae: Earwigs have long, thread-like antennae that arise from their heads.
  • Wings: They have two pairs of wings. The first pair is leathery and serves as protective covers for the second pair, which are thin, membranous wings. The hindwings are folded underneath the forewings when at rest.
  • Pincers (Cerci): One of the most distinctive features of earwigs is the pair of pincer-like appendages at the rear of their abdomen, known as cerci. These cerci resemble forceps or pinchers and are used for various purposes, including defense, capturing prey, and mating. While they may look intimidating, they are not generally harmful to humans.
  • Legs: Earwigs have six legs, which are relatively long and well-suited for crawling.
  • Eyes: They typically have small, dark compound eyes on their heads.
  • Segmentation: Their body is segmented into a head, thorax, and abdomen, with the pincer-like cerci located at the end of the abdomen.

Earwigs have an elongated, dark-colored body with two pairs of wings, long antennae, and distinctive pincer-like cerci at the end of their abdomen. These features, particularly the cerci, set them apart from many other insects. Despite their somewhat menacing appearance, earwigs are generally harmless to humans and serve various ecological roles in their natural habitats.

Where Are Earwigs Found?

Earwigs can be found in a variety of habitats, typically preferring dark and damp environments. Here are some common places where you might encounter earwigs:

  • Gardens and Landscapes: Earwigs are often found in gardens and outdoor landscapes. They hide under plant debris, mulch, rocks, and in the soil. They can occasionally damage young plants by feeding on leaves and stems.
  • Under Logs and Rocks: Earwigs seek shelter under logs, rocks, and other natural debris during the day. These cool, dark, and humid spaces provide them with protection and a place to lay their eggs.
  • Flowerbeds: They are known to hide in flowerbeds, particularly in areas with mulch or decaying plant matter.
  • Compost Piles: Compost piles provide an excellent environment for earwigs due to the abundance of decaying organic matter. They help break down this material as part of their role in the ecosystem.
  • Damp Basements and Crawl Spaces: Earwigs may find their way into homes, especially during rainy or humid weather. They are attracted to the moisture and can be found in damp basements, crawl spaces, or other dark, moist areas.
  • Beneath Stones and Patio Slabs: Earwigs are often discovered when lifting stones, bricks, or patio slabs, as they seek refuge in these cool, concealed spaces.
  • Wood Piles: Stacks of firewood or lumber can also harbor earwigs, as they prefer cool and shaded areas.
  • Outdoor Trash Bins: Earwigs can be attracted to outdoor garbage and compost bins, especially if they contain decaying organic material.
  • Tree Bark: Some species of earwigs are known to hide under tree bark, particularly in more wooded environments.
  • Leaf Litter: In natural settings, they may be found under fallen leaves and leaf litter in forests or wooded areas.

Earwigs are primarily nocturnal, so they are most active during the night. If you encounter them in your garden or home and find them to be a nuisance, there are various methods for managing and controlling their populations, such as maintaining good sanitation, removing hiding spots, and using traps or insecticides if necessary.

What Is The Life Cycle Of Earwigs?

The life cycle of earwigs consists of several stages, including egg, nymph, and adult. Here's an overview of the life cycle of these insects:

Egg Stage:

The life cycle typically begins when adult female earwigs lay eggs. The eggs are usually deposited in protected, dark locations, such as crevices, under plant debris, or in the soil. Depending on the species and environmental conditions, the eggs can take one to three weeks to hatch. The female typically guards and cares for the eggs during this time.

Nymph Stage:

After hatching, young earwigs are referred to as nymphs. Nymphs closely resemble adult earwigs but are smaller and lack fully developed wings and pincers. Nymphs undergo several molts, shedding their exoskeleton as they grow. During each molt, they develop increasingly mature features, such as wings and the characteristic pincer-like cerci. The duration of the nymph stage varies but typically lasts several weeks to a few months, depending on species and environmental factors.

Adult Stage:

Once the nymphs have completed their molts and reached full maturity, they become adult earwigs. Adult earwigs are typically more mobile, have fully developed wings, and are capable of mating and reproducing. Depending on the species, adult earwigs can live for several months to a few years. They are nocturnal and are most active during the night.


Earwigs reproduce through mating, where the male transfers sperm to the female's reproductive system. This typically occurs during the night. After mating, the female lays eggs, starting the life cycle anew.

The specific timing of each stage in the life cycle can vary depending on factors such as temperature, humidity, and food availability. In favorable conditions, earwigs can complete their life cycle relatively quickly. They are known for their maternal care, with the mother often protecting and caring for her eggs and nymphs until they are more independent.

Understanding the life cycle of earwigs is crucial for pest management and control, especially if their presence becomes problematic in gardens or homes.

Earwig Diet

Earwigs are omnivorous insects, which means they have a diverse diet and will consume a variety of organic materials. Their diet includes the following:

  • Decaying Plant Matter: Earwigs are scavengers that feed on decaying leaves, plant debris, and other organic matter on the ground. They help break down dead plant material, which plays a role in the decomposition process.
  • Other Insects: Earwigs are opportunistic predators and will consume other small insects and arthropods. They are known to feed on aphids, mites, and small caterpillars. This makes them beneficial in gardens as natural predators of certain pests.
  • Fungi and Algae: In addition to animal matter, earwigs may also feed on fungi, algae, and spores.
  • Young Plant Material: While they primarily feed on decaying plant matter, earwigs can occasionally nibble on young, tender plant shoots and seedlings. This behavior can sometimes make them garden pests, as they may cause damage to young plants.
  • Carrion: In some cases, earwigs have been observed feeding on dead insects or animals.

While earwigs can occasionally cause damage to plants in gardens, they are not typically significant agricultural pests. In fact, their diet includes some pest insects, which can be beneficial to gardeners. However, when their populations become too large, they may cause localized damage to crops and ornamental plants. If you want to manage earwig populations in your garden, there are various methods, such as maintaining good garden hygiene, reducing hiding spots, and using traps or insecticides when necessary.

Learn more: What Do Earwigs Eat?

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Are Earwigs Harmful?

Earwigs are not typically dangerous to humans. They are insects known for their distinctive pincers, or cerci, at the end of their abdomen. These pincers can look intimidating, but they are primarily used for defense, mating, and capturing prey, not for harming humans.

Earwigs are mostly nocturnal and feed on a variety of organic materials, including plants, other insects, and decaying matter. They can occasionally venture into homes, but their presence is generally more of a nuisance than a serious threat.

Although earwigs are not venomous and don't transmit diseases to humans, they can pinch if they feel threatened. This pinch can be mildly uncomfortable, but it is not dangerous and rarely causes any significant harm. Earwigs prefer dark, damp environments and are more likely to be found in areas like gardens, mulch, and leaf litter rather than indoors. If you encounter earwigs in your home, you can easily remove them using standard pest control methods or by sealing entry points to prevent their ingress.

Learn more: Are Earwigs Dangerous?

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Frequently Asked Questions About Earwigs

Do earwigs bite?

Earwigs can bite, but their bites are rarely of concern to humans. They may pinch when handled or feel threatened, but the bites are generally not harmful and seldom require medical attention.

Learn more: Do Earwigs Bite?

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