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European Earwig

Forficula auricularia; despite its name, this bug does not infest ears


Adult earwigs are reddish-brown in color, with dull yellow brown wing covers and legs. The body is flattened. The elytra (wing cases) are short and cover the hind wings, which are rarely spread out. Males can be distinguished from females by the shape of the pincers, which are curved on the male and straight on the female. The pincers of the male also distinguish this species from other North American species.

female (top) and male (bottom) earwigs
female (top) and male (bottom) earwigs

Distribution and Habitat

As its name implies, the European earwig is native to most of Europe, but has also been introduced and firmly established in North America. It is not known how earwigs got their common name, but they do not get into the ears of humans or any other animals except in rare cases when one may wander into an ear by accident because it is on the path the animal is following.


Sexes come together in September, and stay together until late January. During this period the pairs can be found in chambers dug about an inch down into the earth, where mating takes place. The female lays 20-80 oval, pearly-white eggs over the span of a couple of days. At first the eggs are scattered about the floor of the chamber, but once they are all laid she gathers them into a single pile. Throughout the 3-4 week incubation period the only food she has is the occasional egg that has gone bad. The eggs must be licked by the mother regularly or they will not hatch.

a mother earwig tending her eggs
a mother earwig tending her eggs

Hatchlings are essentially small versions of the adults, but lighter in color and with smaller, simpler pincers. They will stay with their mother until their second moult, and are fully grown by July or August.


European earwigs feed on other insects, fruit, leaves, flowers and fungi. Although they are primarily scavengers they have been seen to capture insect prey.

Habits and Behaviors

The earwig is nocturnal. It spends its day hidden away in dry upright crevices or under loose bark, or tucked away among the petals of dahlias and other flowers.

Scientific Classification

phylum Arthropoda
class Insecta
order Dermaptera
family Forficulidae
genus & species Forficula auricularia

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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Zoology >> Insects >> Order Dermaptera

This page was last updated on July 14, 2017.