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March 2009 cover image of Pedernales Falls State Park

Wild Thing: Earwig Oddities

While they won’t lay eggs in your brain, earwigs do have the odd habit of licking their babies’ eggs.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

When out gardening this spring, don’t be too quick to smash any earwigs (Euborellia annulipes) you uncover in the soil. Why spare the life of a creepy little creature with formidable pinchers? She may be someone’s mom.

Seriously, female earwigs — like some lynx and wolf spiders — pay close attention to their brood. In an underground chamber, an earwig lays and protects 20 or more eggs. She even continually licks the eggs, though biologists aren’t sure why. After hatching, a female earwig stays with her young until their first molt. Then they’re on their own.

That said, earwigs — despite their scary looks — pose no threat to humans. They scavenge at night for insects, algae, fungi and decaying matter. By day, they hide in moist places beneath rocks, boards and leaf litter. They may get into homes seeking the moisture they crave.

What about those pinchers? Earwigs — which as adults measure 1/2 to 1 inch long — use them like forceps to defend their nests and capture prey. You might get a slight pinch from an earwig, but that’s all. Unlike spider fangs, an earwig’s pinchers cannot inject venom. Tip: An up-close look at pinchers will determine an earwig’s gender (male forceps are longer and more curved).

Historically, earwigs were so named by early Anglo-Saxons who slept on the floor and sometimes discovered “earwicgas” (ear beetles) in their ears upon waking. Contrary to urban legend, earwig mothers have never burrowed into someone’s brains and laid eggs. That’s what dirt is for!

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