Earwigs are insects known for their distinct appearance with elongated, flat bodies and a pair of strong, pincer-like cerci at the tip of their abdomens.
These nocturnal creatures are often spotted roaming around gardens and houses, feeding on a variety of things, such as garbage and house plants, as well as occasionally causing minor damage to some garden plants.
Many people are concerned that earwigs are dangerous to humans. Despite their intimidating appearance, earwigs are generally not harmful to humans.
Although they can occasionally find their way into our ears, the ancient superstition that they burrow into the ear to eat a person’s brain has been debunked.
Are Earwigs Dangerous?
Myths and Facts
Myth: There’s an ancient superstition that earwigs burrow through the external auditory canal to eat sleeping persons’ brains.
Fact: This belief is unfounded; however, earwigs may sometimes enter the ear.
Earwigs are insects that are about 5/8 inch long, with a flat, reddish-brown body and short wings that are membranous wings.
They have medium-length antennae and chewing mouthparts. Earwigs are equipped with a pair of strong pinchers (cerci) on the tip of their abdomen.
Here are some key characteristics of earwigs:
- Nocturnal insects
- Feed on a variety of things, including garbage and house plants
- Can damage plants in the garden, such as dahlias, zinnias, and lettuce
- Females lay between 30 and 50 eggs in a batch, producing several batches
|Damp areas, gardens, and indoors
|Varies by insect species
|Varies by insect species
|Daytime or nocturnal
While earwigs may look intimidating due to their pinchers, they typically pose more of a threat to plants than humans. They are not venomous and do not transmit any diseases to humans.
The most significant concern would be an accidental earwig crawl into an ear, causing discomfort and potential tinnitus.
Biology and Behavior of Earwigs
Anatomy and Appearance
Earwigs are reddish-brown insects with flat body, measuring about 5/8 inch long. Some features include:
- Medium length antennae
- Chewing mouthparts
- A pair of strong pincers (cerci) at the end of their abdomen
Males have stout, curved cerci that are widely separated at the base, while females have straighter cerci. Interestingly, earwigs also have short wings, with hindwings folding neatly under their hardened forewings.
Habitat and Nocturnal Lifestyle
Earwigs are nocturnal insects that prefer moist and dark environments. They can often be found living in the following areas:
- Garden debris
- Cracks and crevices in walls
- Soil, leaf litter, and mulch
During the day, they hide in these shelters, coming out at night to search for food.
Diet and Predatory Behavior
Earwigs are omnivorous and exhibit predatory behavior on occasion. Their primary diet consists of:
- Decaying plant material
- Insects (aphids, mites, and insect eggs)
- Some fruit and vegetables
Their pincer-like cerci are used to catch prey and for self-defense.
These insects start mating in the spring season. The female cares for the eggs and the young for a short time after they hatch. They lay between 30 to 50 eggs in a batch. Plus, there can be several batches.
Females are quite defensive when it comes to protecting their nests. The larvae take around two to three months to become adults. Adults may live up to seven months.
Earwigs in the Home and Garden
Common Signs of Infestation
Earwigs are insects that can infest homes and gardens. They are easy to identify due to their:
- Flat, reddish-brown body
- Medium length antennae
- Strong pinchers on their abdomen
Here are some common signs of an earwig infestation:
- Small holes all over young leaves
- Ragged, chewed edges on older leaves
- Presence in damp areas, like crevices or near water sources
Impact on Plants and Flowers
These insects can be damaging to plants and flowers in the garden. They tend to:
- Feed on seedlings and young leaves
- Climb into fruit trees and eat ripening fruit
- Leave small holes in younger leaves and ragged edges on older ones
Preventing and Controlling Infestations
There are several ways to prevent and control earwig infestations:
- Remove shelter areas, like mulch or damp leaves
- Seal cracks and gaps around doors, windows, and drains
- Use traps to catch earwigs near the home and garden
In some cases, chemical treatments may be needed. However, it’s important to note that earwigs may be beneficial, as they also eat pests like aphids.
Earwigs and Human Health
Can Earwigs Harm Pets and Children?
Earwigs are generally not harmful to humans, pets, or children. While they might look scary with their pincers and be considered a nuisance, they are not venomous or dangerous.
However, it’s essential to be cautious with pets and small children who are curious and might try to touch or handle them.
Potential Reactions to Bites
In rare cases, earwigs might pinch skin if they feel threatened, causing minor discomfort. The bite itself is not poisonous, but some people can experience reactions or infections if the skin is broken.
- Swelling or redness at the bite site
- Itching or irritation
- A mild infection in severe cases, requiring medical attention
Here’s a comparison between Earwigs and other insects:
|Risk to Human Health
|Risk for Pets and Children
|Low – minor discomfort if pinched
|Low – avoid handling
|Moderate – stings can cause reactions
|Moderate – avoid stinging
|High – can transmit diseases
|High – can cause diseases in pets
Characteristics of earwigs:
- Reddish-brown to black color
- Flat body, sometimes with short wings
- Medium length antennae
- Male and female earwigs have differently shaped pincers (cerci)
Pros of earwigs:
- Contribute to a healthy ecosystem
- Help with organic decomposition
- Feed on other insects and pests
Cons of earwigs:
- Can enter homes and become a nuisance
- In rare cases, they may pinch or bite humans
- May cause damage to plants and crops
Fun and Interesting Earwig Facts
Earwigs are fascinating insects that often get a bad reputation. Let’s have a look at some fun and interesting facts about them.
- Earwigs are usually about 5/8 inch long
- They have a flat, reddish-brown body and very short wings
- Their medium-length antennae and chewing mouthparts make them recognizable
- Their abdomen’s tip has a pair of strong pinchers called cerci
Despite their scary appearance, earwigs are not known to transmit diseases or harm humans.
- The European earwig (Forficula auricularia) is a common pest found in homes and gardens
- They can be destructive to house and garden plants
- They emit a foul odor and often appear around kitchens and bathrooms
- Birds are common predators of earwigs
- Other insect predators may also consume them
Are they dangerous?
- Earwigs are not considered dangerous to humans
- The old Greek myth claimed they crawled into human ears, but this is untrue
When comparing European earwigs to flies, earwigs are predominantly nocturnal, while flies are diurnal:
|Harmful to Humans
|Potentially (disease transmission)
Earwigs are often considered dangerous due to their intimidating appearance with their unique pincers. However, these insects are generally harmless to humans.
There is a myth that these insects crawl into your ear and reach your brain. Yes, they at times can find their way into our ears, but the notion that they burrow into brains has been debunked.
These insects are nocturnal and usually feed on organic matter, making them beneficial in managing pests. However, they can damage plants and crops.
Use the prevention hacks mentioned in the article to control their presence indoors and in gardens.
Enjoy learning about these unique insects and remember to keep your living spaces clean to avoid attracting them into your home.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about earwigs. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Earwigs
Found a bug crawling out from a crack in my wall, the house is like 50 or so years old….. Live in Kentucky it is light brown six legs antennas and pinchers on the back, it can curl up, and when it flips over its lighter brown toward the front of it. Thanks
I believe you have an earwig that can get quite plentiful in damp locations. We have additional information on our site.
We have this weird bug in the house that I have not been able to identify in any of the “household pest” lists, so maybe you can help.
It’s a warm weather bug, that starts out small (1/2 inch) at the beginning of the season and now is an inch to an inch and a half.
They seem to come out mostly at night, but we have seen a few during the day. The body has 2 segments, blackish brown with lighter-colored legs on each side, and can crawl fairly fast across the carpet or up on the walls.
The weirdest part is a tail that looks kind of like a crab claw or a pincher that’s the same color as the legs. It can be up or down, open or closed.
I believe they originally came from the outside like the ladybugs and the box-elder bugs, but once they got in, they haven’t left.
We don’t see them in the winter, but I don’t think they’ve actually left; they’re probably just dormant then. Any info would be helpful. Thank you for your time and attention
You have earwigs. We at What’s That Bug have gotten many questions about earwigs since the beginning of this column. They belong to the order Dermaptera.
They frequent debris piles, stacks of lumber, compost piles, and rocks that can be overturned. It is believed that their common name originates from the Anglo-Saxon word earwicga (earworm) since they often found their way into the ears of sleepers on straw mattresses in sod huts.
Their outstanding physical characteristic is the forcep pincers on the rear end of the abdomen. Earwigs are active a night.
They can be attracted to lights and one species in particular, the European Earwig (Forficula auricularia), which has wings that are hidden under wing shields, is often a nuisance indoors.
Despite having wings, they rarely fly, preferring to keep the wings hidden from view and to scuttle about in the dark.
Though earwigs have an undeserved reputation for being garden pests since they sometimes chew tender young plants, they prefer to eat other insects, and are, in fact, beneficial.
I think an internet search for earwigs will provide you with photos that support my identification.
Letter 2 – European Earwig
What is this bug?
Hello, We love your website and have been a fan for years. My kids are now in Jr. High and we still check out the site to see what is new! I am sending you a picture of this strange bug we found on our kitchen floor.
It was only 1/2 inch from one end to the other! Maybe you can tell us what it is! We hope it isn’t a yucky bug, like a roach or something!!! Thanks again for your great website!
Your insect is a European Earwig, Forficula auricularia, and it is easily distinguished from native Earwigs by the distinctively shaped male forceps. Your specimen is a male.
The species was probably introduced in the early 1900s, according to BugGuide. Earwigs may use their forceps to pinch people, but this is not harmful as there is no venom and the forceps would probably not be able to pierce the skin.
If populations of Earwigs become too plentiful in the garden, they may cause damage to delicate blossoms as Earwigs will feed on flower bugs as well as decaying organic materials.
Letter 3 – Earwig in Wisconsin
November 17, 2010
Found on 11/16/2010 in Superior, WI. I’m not sure what it is and have never seen anything like this in my life before!! I have a 7-month-old daughter and I’m very concerned there could be more and could be harmful to her. Please help!!
Sent from my iPhone
What a beautiful image of an Earwig. They are not considered dangerous, however, Earwigs often seek out enclosed, dark places for security.
The name Earwig is allegedly derived from the Anglo-Saxon word earwig, which according to Charles Hogue in Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, refers to the notion that the Anglo-Saxons slept in sod huts with straw mattresses and “the warm and tight ear opening of a slumbering person might well have been a snug hiding place for these crevice-loving creatures.”
We can imagine an Aryan giant leaping to his feet screaming “earwicga” after an Earwig ventured toward his eardrum. Earwigs, especially male Earwigs, have forceps at the end of the abdomen that can pinch lightly.
Letter 4 – Earwig with Fungus Infestation
Subject: Fuzzy earwig???
Location: Tampa, fl
December 7, 2015 8:42 am
Hello! I saw this little guy on my lawn this morning. We live on a lake in Tampa, Florida (in case the area is relevant). Didn’t move the whole time I observed it. Looks like an earwig wearing a fur coat!
Letter 5 – Earwig Impailed: This one for the Birds!!!
Hi, and thank you for taking the time to read this email.
I noticed a small (maybe 1/4″) insect on the tip of a thorn of a small cactus in my backyard a couple of weeks ago.
I didn’t think much of it, but decided to take a close-up photo of it last Sunday; after reviewing the photo, I was shocked to see that the insect was in fact impaled!
Since that time, I’ve wondered how this could have happened. I sent an email, including the same attached photos (two different cameras), to an entomologist at a local university and received the following response:
“The earwig you see impaled could have been blown by the wind. They have been very strong lately. I see this with winged male ants after a mating flight. Great photos!”
With all due respect to the PhD. who replied to my question, I still don’t see how this could have happened, even in a high-wind environment (in my estimation, the winds haven’t been THAT strong in So. Cal.).
Also, notice that the earwig is impaled on a vertical thorn, meaning that the wind gust which led to its demise had to be strong enough to lift it off the ground and then pound it down on the thorn with sufficient force to pierce its hardened thorax… incredible.
I’m totally perplexed. I would be interested to hear whatever thoughts or opinions you may have about this. As I told the Ph.D. at Cal Poly Pomona, this is not a joke or an altered photo, and no one goes into my backyard other than me. Thanks again for your time,
San Dimas, CA
First of all, we don’t think our art degrees can stack up to a Ph.D. in Entomology, but we do have another thought.
The wind or some other freak accident of nature could be responsible, and I doubt if you have the resources to call in the CSI to see if foul play could be afoot. Our theory is a bird.
Some birds, including we believe jays (and shrikes), are known to impail insects on thorns and return for a meal later. That is the best we can offer.
Hi Bugman. The SHRIKES- either Loggerhead or Northern – frequently impale insects on twigs and thorns as a way of “putting food aside for later”. Both species can be found in CA in winter.
Letter 6 – Earwig sighting accompanied by maternal hysteria and book bashing!!!
A long bug called a Pricker bug, by the locals has invaded my property and even entered my home. I worry for my child’s safety.
August 22, 2009
The bug is long, about 2 inches in length, and very narrow body. It has a curved tail like a scorpion, but no pincher claws in the front like the scorpion. The pincher is on the end of the tail. Looked more like a stinger to me at first.
It moves quickly, and when squished with a book, I had to push down HARD to kill it. It freaked me out because I thought it might be a scorpion of some sort or at least a relative to the scorpion.
My neighbor looked at the one I killed (I saved it in a baggy), and he called it a “Pincher” bug. But, I KNOW that’s not the correct name for this bug. He also told me they sting or pinch and it’s VERY painful.
I have a child (who is allergic to almost all bugs and has a severe reaction to even a tick or mosquito bite. A tick bite swelled her entire face in the eye area and it looked red and puffy for days.
People thought I beat my child because her eye was so swelled too.) in my home, and I am afraid she will unknowingly come across one and step on it or something, getting hurt.
Are they poisonous? Are they dangerous? What are they?? I live in central Florida. I tend to see them in rainy times. They are dark colored, maybe black or dark brown. long and thin, tail curved up on end.
Their shells are very strong, it was difficult to break them when I squished them with the book, took a couple of times and a lot of pressure before I heard the crunch.
I hate bugs and don’t usually go out of my way to kill them, just stay away from them. If I knew what this was, I could figure out how to get them gone from my yard, and when they come in the house. Please help me.
My main concern to find out about these bugs is to protect my daughter. Please help me to figure this out. I will search for pics, and hopefully I find one to send with this. If I don’t, I hope you have an image in mind already.
Dade City Florida near the forest, near a residential area.
Your inquiry has us totally baffled because you attached a photo lifted from the University of Nebraska Department of Entomology that clearly identifies your Pricker Bug as a European Earwig.
Armed with that information, the first website that popped up in an internet search is the Featured Creatures website which had quite detailed information on the European Earwig.
Earwigs are not poisonous, and though the forceps at the tip of the male’s abdomen can cause a slight pinch, your neighbor was exaggerating when he said it is “VERY painful.”
Comparing the pinch of an Earwig to the bite of a Tick or Mosquito, both of which can spread diseases, is irrational.
According to the CDC, a partial list of Tickborne Diseases includes Babesiosis (Babesia Infection), Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, Lyme Disease, Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, and Tick Born Relapsing Fever. Mosquitoes are an even more serious concern. According to the AMCA website:
“Mosquitoes cause more human suffering than any other organism — over one million people die from mosquito-borne diseases every year. Not only can mosquitoes carry diseases that afflict humans, they also transmit several diseases and parasites that dogs and horses are very susceptible to.”
The National Center for Infectious Diseases website has the following partial list of Mosquito-Borne Diseases: Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Japanese Encephalitis, La Crosse Encephalitis, St. Louis Encephalitis, West Nile Virus, Western Equine Encephalitis, Dengue Fever and Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever, Malaria, Rift Valley Fever, and Yellow Fever.
Climate Change, Global Warming, and traveling around the world could cause some of these typically tropical diseases to surface in the U.S. In our opinion, your squishing of an Earwig with a book constitutes Unnecessary Carnage.
You do not need to concern yourself with your daughter’s safety when it comes to Earwigs.
Letter 7 – Earwigs
Dear What’s That Bug,
I have densely planted the “earth” in front of my apartment building. Along with broken glass and mammalian excreta, one of the chief components, by volume, of this earth is earwigs.
These can be readily observed with a flashlight after dark, teeming about. Many plants are unaffected. However, some will be set upon at a young age and razed entirely – a four-inch high clump of poppies will easily be eliminated in two nights.
I don’t know why some small plants are attacked and not others of similar size and age. Just as frustrating is the earwigs’ appetite for flower petals which are quickly riddled with holes and finally eaten to shreds soon after they unfold to the sun.
Diatomaceous earth doesn’t slow them down (in any quantity). I don’t want to spray “poison” – What can I do?
Dear m r k n
According to Hogue, no one is sure of the origin of the name earwig (Order Dermaptera) but “one guess is that the early Anglo-Saxons, who named them earwicga (ear beetle or worm) and who lived in sod huts, where these insects also lived, occasionally found them in their ears upon waking from a sound sleep on a straw mattress.
The warm and tight ear opening of a slumbering person might well have been a snug hiding place for these crevice-loving creatures.”
Earwigs are omnivorous and are considered beneficial because they actually devour many insect pests, but like any flesh eater, they
occasionally crave some vegetable matter, and what better than tender young sprouts and flower petals?
If you have an aversion to pesticides, we strongly suggest that you clean up the dog shit outside your apartment.
Letter 8 – Earwigs Invade Home
Location: Southern California Rural Desert
August 19, 2011 12:37 am
We love your site and have found it extremely helpful in identifying all the creepy crawlies we have around our desert home. Anyway, quick question for you. We are having an Earwig issue. We find them all over the house at night!
In every room, but only at night. Some nights we’ll see two dozen or more! Is there anything we can do to get rid of these guys? Does seeing a lot mean there’s a nest or colony somewhere?
Any info would be greatly appreciated! (P.S. I didn’t have a picture, but they pretty much look like the drawing attached.)
We have decided to illustrate your inquiry with a photo from our archives of an immature Earwig from Palmdale. That person just asked for identification. They did not ask for advice on the control of Earwigs.
Earwigs are generally associated with the garden, but they are attracted to lights. We need to do some research on this matter. We wonder if inhospitable conditions in the desert are causing them to change their habits.
Perhaps they were originally introduced to the area with plantings from a nursery and in an effort to survive in an area that is not suited to their love of moisture, they have fled inside to the comfortable conditions you have created for yourself and your family.
Is this a new development or a long-established community? We expect that Earwigs would be perfectly content to scavenge in your basement for any food that is left available to them, and if conditions are right, that they would reproduce there. Earwigs are known for some maternal care of the offspring.
Again, we need to do some research.
Thank you for the reply! Our town is not that far from Palmdale, so the image you used is exactly like the earwigs we are seeing in our home. Our home, as well as most of the homes in our area, is actually 60+ years old.
But a few years before we moved in, the yard was renovated with some new cacti and other plants, so it is very possible the earwigs came from a nursery.
We definitely feel like since the weather has gotten extremely hot over the last 2 months (110+ degrees daily), we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of earwigs in the house.
They are definitely nocturnal — I can’t remember ever seeing one crawling across the floor during the daytime. We don’t have a basement, and the ironic thing is, our home is made out of steel!
So I’m very surprised they’re getting in, although with the home being so old, I’m sure there’s loads of little space here and there.
Do earwigs eat other bugs? What does their diet primarily consist of? I’m just wondering if maybe we find a food source and remove that, it would help with our invasion!
We have loads of other spiders, bugs, lizards, and birds in our yard (nesting roadrunners even!), and we’d really love the earwigs to stay out there too!
Anyway, thanks again!
Hi again Earwigged-Out,
It is our understanding that Earwigs are omnivorous and that they will eat both plants and animals. They are frequently found in compost piles. We did find this interesting bit of information on BugGuide:
“Earwigs are sensitive to heat and dryness, so they usually hide in cool, dark places during the day and come out at night. Some species hide mostly under leaves, rocks and other debris, while others hide under the bark of trees.
An important habitat in the deserts of the southwest US is inside rotting cactus- one of the few places with constant moisture even in the driest parts of the year.”
Letter 9 – European Earwig
April 3, 2012 7:41 pm
I’m the first to admit I know nothing about bugs and ID-ing them in general, but this little fellow was a complete mystery to me.
Never seen one like him before! He was found near the site of what we think was a small (empty) wasp’s nest… is he (she?) one?
Signature: Confused in California
Dear Confused in California,
Your insect is an Earwig, not a wasp. Earwigs often seek tight spaces in which to take shelter, and the origin of the name Earwig, according to Charles Hogue in Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, is Anglo-Saxon earwicga, which means “ear beetle or worm”.
Hogue writes that the Anglo-Saxons: ” who lived in sod huts, where these insects also lived, occasionally found them in their ears upon waking from a sound sleep on a straw mattress.
The warm and tight ear opening of a slumbering person might well have been a snug hiding place for these crevice-loving creatures.”
Based on its coloration, we believe your Earwig is a European Earwig, Forficula auricularia, and you may compare your photo to this image from BugGuide.
Letter 10 – European Earwig
Subject: this bug is in my house and yard
Location: Los Angeles, CA
May 15, 2016 10:50 am
I was wondering if you can confirm that this bug is a European Earwig. (and not a termite).
they seem to be prevalent lately inside and around the outside of my house since we moved in a few weeks ago.
I want to make sure it is not a termite. thanks in advance for your help.
Signature: With much thanks and gratitude, Bill Cowan
This is a European Earwig, not a Termite, and though they can be a nuisance indoors, they are basically outdoor insects that enjoy the garden, but since they can be attracted to lights, they are frequently found indoors.