Earwigs are infamous because, according to the myth, they crawl into people’s ears, eat their brains, and lay their eggs there. Indeed, that’s a very unpleasant thought. However, only a part of this myth is true, and today you’ll find out which!
These tiny creatures aren’t as bad as people think. They can even be helpful around the house, although keeping them far from your home’s interior is advised. They can clean your garden from harmful insects and decaying plant matter. But how do they digest these, and where do they poop from? Let’s find out!
What are earwigs?
Earwigs are in the Dermaptera order, which includes 2,000 earwig species grouped into 12 families. They are abundant on the North and South American continents, as well as in Eurasia. Here’s what we know so far about their distribution: 25 species can be found in North America, 60 in Australia, 45 in Europe, with 7 in Great Britain, probably because of its high humidity levels. The spine-tailed earwig, scientifically called Doru aculeatum, is the only earwig species native to the United States. It can also be found in Canada. Other earwig families in North America are Spongiphoridae, Anisolabididae, and Forficulidae.
Earwigs have flattened, hardened bodies that are usually 0.25–2 inches long. A large earwig species called Saint Helena earwig or Labidura herculeana registered a record of 3.1 inches. However, this species is now extinct. Titanolabis colossea, the Australian giant earwig, is the largest living species. It can grow as long as two inches.
The well-known earwig pincers are more curved in males than in females. These pincers are used for catching and immobilizing prey.
They have long, beaded antennae, a segmented abdomen, and six legs. Their colors range from shades of brown to shades of yellow. An earwig’s body has a shiny aspect.
What do earwigs eat?
Earwigs are omnivorous insects. They eat plants and animals. Earwigs are considered beneficial in gardens because they can eat insects that are harmful to plants.
Here’s a list of what earwigs eat:
- Garden snails
- Plant lice
- Insect larvae
- Decaying plant matter
- House or garden plants
- Secretions produced by bats or rats
- Egg sacks and earwig poop (only for baby or “nymph” earwigs)
How do earwigs digest food?
Like other insects, earwigs have a foregut, a midgut, and a hindgut. However, they don’t have gastric caeca.
What does earwig poop look like?
Insect poop is called frass. Earwig poop consists of tiny, black pellets. If you notice them around your plants, it’s highly probable they come from earwigs. Moreover, the leaves of the plants can be partially eaten or full of holes. Earwigs are especially active after rain. Why? Because they need shelter and look for available leaves and plants.
Do earwigs eat poop?
Yes, earwigs can eat each other’s poop. This is especially common in baby earwigs because their poop is an excellent source of nutritional elements. This often happens in “families” between brothers and sisters.
Are earwigs or their poop dangerous?
No, earwigs are not known to carry bacteria and diseases, so they aren’t dangerous. If your dog or cat accidentally eats an earwig’s poop, it’s highly unlikely they’ll get sick.
However, earwigs can pinch if you’re trying to touch them, but aren’t strong enough to break through your skin.
Where do earwigs poop from?
Earwigs poop from the so-called malpighian tubules (an excretory system specific to myriapods, arachnids, tardigrades, and insects) located between the junction of the midgut and hindgut.
Can you have earwigs in the house?
Yes, earwigs often come into people’s houses, especially during or after rain. They can also come to your garden, looking for plants and leaves they can eat. They are most often seen in houses during the fall. Sometimes they can be brought inside alongside firewood, plants, or even books and newspapers. Once they get into the house, they’ll hide in the cracks.
If you’re not an insect enthusiast, it’s recommended to ensure all the airways and other entries are well-covered. You can use mosquito nets, for example.
Outside, you may find earwigs through decaying plant leaves or hidden under rocks or logs. They are unlikely to come out during the day, as they usually feed at night.
Do earwigs eat people’s brains?
Earwigs sometimes crawl into people’s ears but do not eat the brain or lay eggs in the ear. A study showed that after taking an earwig out of a 24-year-old man’s ear, the tympanic membrane and external auditory canal looked normal, without traumatism, and the patient heard well. The man showed up at the clinic with tinnitus (the so-called “ringing in the ears” that gives buzzing, hissing, whistling sensations) and severe otalgia (ear pain).
Check this study to see a video of an earwig crawling in the external auditory canal!
Besides the results from this study, a simple Google search reveals numerous stories shared by people worldwide about earwigs crawling into their ears. However, they either took the earwigs out at home or went to the hospital to get rid of them and didn’t experience any consequences either to the ear or to the brain. This only confirms the fact that earwigs do go into people’s ears, but they aren’t dangerous. They can only cause ear pain.
Where does the earwig’s name come from?
The earwig’s scientific name, Dermaptera, comes from the Greek words derma (skin) and pteron (wing, plural from ptera). On the other hand, the term “earwig” comes from the Old English words ēare (ear) and wicga (insect). Contrary to the idea people spread over the years – that they’re called earwigs because they crawl into people’s ears and eat their brain while they sleep – their name etymology doesn’t indicate anything like that. Entomologists state that earwigs are called earwigs because, when unfolded, their hindwings look like a human ear.
Are earwigs useful for anything?
Earwigs are also called sanitary engineers because they clean habitats by feeding on live and dead insects and dying plants. They can help plants survive by eating other pests that harm vegetation, such as mites and aphids. Other sanitary engineers are pill bugs, millipedes, and sowbugs.
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