Are Earwigs Dangerous or Poisonous?

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: April 12, 2022
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If you saw an enlarged picture of an earwig, you may think its back pincers was extremely dangerous, like a scorpion’s tail. But the more you zoom out to see that an earwig is only about a half-inch, the less scary it looks. Even though earwigs are small, they do have sharp pincers. Are they dangerous? If you got bit or stung, would it be poisonous? Let’s find out if earwigs are dangerous!

What are earwigs?

Earwigs look dangerous with their large pincers.

©Pudding4brains – Public Domain

Earwigs are small insects that can sometimes find their way into homes. They are long and skinny and about a half-inch long, with a segmented body. There are two long antennae coming out of their head, and at their back-end, they have a set of pincers. Earwigs are reddish-brown and have yellowish legs. The males’ pincers are curved, while those of the females are more straight with less space between them.

Why do they call them earwigs?

There are two theories on how earwigs got their name. The first theory is based on an old wives’ tale about insects crawling into your ear while you sleep and laying eggs in your brain! The second theory is that the wings of the earwig are shaped like an ear. They have small, thin wings and do not fly very often. Because they prefer warm moist areas like soil and leaf piles, there is no need to fly around.

Are earwigs dangerous?

Earwigs are not dangerous. They are not harmful to humans. They do not crawl inside people’s ears and your brain or anyone’s brain. Those are false rumors.

Their sharp pincers are not dangerous either. You could get pinched accidentally, but the pincers are so small you would hardly feel it, and it probably wouldn’t break the skin.

Are earwigs poisonous?

Earwigs are not poisonous. They are not venomous either, and if they did pinch you, there would not be any harmful effects. Earwigs do not make any venom. Animals like bees have stingers that inject a venom that affects the cells in the skin tissue and the immune system. Snakes like rattlesnakes have fangs that release venom when they bite, releasing neurotoxins that can cause nausea, vomiting, and nerve issues. If a person is allergic to the bee venom or snake venom, they can have an anaphylactic reaction, and their airway swells shut, making it difficult or impossible to breathe. Earwigs do not pose this risk because they are not poisonous.

Why do earwigs have pincers?

Beautiful Earwig Insect Close Up

Earwigs use their pincers to grasp and hold prey.

© Selcuk KIRAY

Earwigs use their pincers to grab and hold prey. The pincers are called cerci and are used to hold onto prey while they use their chewing mouthparts to chomp on their dinner. Earwigs are also scavengers and will feed on dead insects.

Are earwigs dangerous to pets?

Earwigs are not dangerous to pets. They do not bite or infest pets as fleas do. Earwigs are most active at night and will stay away from threats like cats and dogs. If your dog or cat eats an earwig, it is not likely to cause any harm. Pests like cockroaches can be harmful to pets if they eat them. Cockroaches are not poisonous, but they can carry diseases. So, if your dog eats one, it could get sick. Earwigs do not carry diseases, so it is not likely that your pet would get sick if they ate one.

Where can you find earwigs?

Earwigs can make their way into your home and can be found in your pantry, snacking on any open food. Groups of them can be a nuisance, but they don’t damage property like termites. You can also find them in your garden. They prefer living in areas that are warm and moist. In the fall, when things cool down, they may wander into homes. Keeping your home airtight and sealing any entry points can help keep little critters like earwigs out of your home.

Are earwigs good or bad for your garden?

Earwigs can nibble holes in hostas, but they are also known to be quite helpful by eating all the harmful aphids.

©Pudding4brains – Public Domain

Earwigs are both good and bad for your garden! They can be good because they eat some problem bugs like aphids, maggots, and flies. They can be bad because they eat vegetables and flowers that are in your garden. Sometimes, they chew holes in the leaves of hostas and the flower buds of dahlia, marigolds, and butterfly bushes. Larger plants aren’t harmed by a few holes, but when large groups of earwigs invade a garden, they can cause the plants to die.

One research study showed that European earwigs were actually quite beneficial for apple orchards. The Washington State University researchers found that earwigs were eating many of the harmful aphids, like a natural pesticide. So, they can be considered good insects!

Do earwigs smell bad?

Earwigs can release a foul smell if they feel threatened. If you had an infestation of earwigs and they were all startled at once, yes, they could be quite smelly, but nothing like having a skunk wander through your garage!

How do you get rid of earwigs?

If you find one or two earwigs snacking on cracker crumbs in your pantry, you can use a small broom and dustpan to sweep them up and put them back outside. A large group could be vacuumed up and released outside.

To get earwigs out of your garden, you can set an earwig trap. Lay out a piece of newspaper and place an old tuna can in the middle. Put some vegetable oil or fish oil in the can and leave it out overnight because earwigs are nocturnal. In the morning, remove the can and roll up the earwigs inside and relocate or dispose of them.

Do earwigs carry disease?

Beautiful Earwig Insect Close Up, sitting on a flower.

Earwigs do not carry diseases.

© Selcuk KIRAY

Earwigs do not carry diseases. If you think about the problem with cockroaches, they live in the sewers and get sewage on their legs and then bring that into our homes. Cockroaches spread those harmful bacteria across our kitchen counters and even across our food. So, cockroaches can spread diseases, but earwigs do not.

Are earwigs only in the United States?

No, earwigs can be found all over the world except Antarctica. There are around 1,800 different earwig species. The European earwig is the most common one in the United States, although not native to the country. Since earwigs are all over the world, it seems like they are here to stay, so it is good to know that they are not dangerous or poisonous!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Selcuk KIRAY

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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