Like many insects classified as household pests, the earwig has a nasty reputation for invading pantries and getting into unsecured food staples. However, in the outdoors this insect has a key role in the ecosystem, and a large part of that involves what the earwig eats!
There are 1,800 distinct species of earwigs all over the world. People think that they are pests, but they are a vital part of the environments they inhabit. Earwigs are nocturnal and prefer damp locations such as rotted tree bark and the ground underneath rocks. They are also accidental household pests in basements and household gardens. It makes you wonder – what do earwigs eat?
What Do Earwigs Eat?
Earwigs are omnivores and while most species primarily feed on other insects they are omnivores because they can supplement their diet with plant matter as well. The earwig is nocturnal and prefers cold and moist environments. They are also an occasional pest during warmer months when they enter human dwellings. Earwigs are scavengers with a variable diet that adapts to any environment. This is likely why they are found everywhere in the world!
The Complete Earwig Diet
The primary diet of earwigs found outdoors is vegetation or other insects. Earwig species that are insect eaters will consume both live prey and any dead insects they come across. There are over 1,800 species of earwigs found everywhere in the world. The specific types of insects and vegetation are dependent upon the location of each species.
Most species of earwig prefer to eat other insects but will supplement their diet with plant matter. Earwig species that consume other insects eat aphids, small garden snails, plant lice, aphids, and insect larvae such as maggots. Those that prefer vegetation will consume moss, algae, lichens, or most decaying plant matter. This includes earwigs that may end up inside a human dwelling that are known to consume house or garden plants. Earwigs are also known to go for unsecured food in pantries.
There are also some earwig suborders considered to be mammal parasites. These are earwigs that feed on secretions produced by species of bats or rats. They often crawl onto the animal itself to do so.
How Much Do Earwigs Eat?
Earwigs can consume quite a bit considering their small size, but it is difficult to ascertain how much one earwig can eat. However, they are highly beneficial within gardens due to their preference for aphids and plant lice. By preying on these common garden pests, earwigs improve the overall health of flowers and plant life in general!
What Do Nymph Earwigs Eat?
Baby earwigs are called nymphs and female earwigs lay up to three hundred eggs within damp soil. Unlike many other insects, the female earwig will guard and protect the nymph earwigs until they are fully grown. During this period, nymphs consume their egg sacks. They also eat regurgitations provided by the mother and their molts until they reach the adult form.
Does The Earwig’s Diet Change By Season?
Earwigs do not consume a specific type of diet based on the season. However, earwigs found in areas that experience significant seasonal weather changes may go dormant. They accomplish this by burrowing into the ground during colder times of the year. Earwigs can borrow up to six feet deep to escape the cold!
How Do Earwigs Find Food?
Earwigs are primarily considered to be scavengers and will consume anything they find within their location, often selecting an environment with a high concentration of decaying matter that is warm and damp. With their ability to eat about any type of plant matter or other insects, they do not have much trouble locating food. While they may occasionally wind up within a human dwelling, they are accidental pests that prefer the outdoors.
Do Earwigs Compete With Another Animal For Food?
Due to the nature of the earwig’s diet, they do not necessarily have to compete for food. The main competitors for food an earwig may encounter are other organisms that consume decayed matter, such as termites or worm species. They also may come into conflict with species of ants that also consume detritus. However, as many ant species may attack solitary insects, the earwig will avoid conflict with this community-oriented species and find another location for food.
The Earwig’s Natural Predators
Earwigs have many natural predators and are a common food source for a variety of other insects and species of spiders. They are hunted by numerous bird species, small rodents and mammals, frogs and toads, and reptiles like small snakes and lizards.
Due to the multitude of predators the earwig may encounter, they are nocturnal and secretive insects. Additionally, their main defense is the sharp pincers on the bottom of their bodies that they use like forceps for feeding and mating as well as to defend against attack. Male insects have larger pincers with serrated teeth, while female pincers lack this feature and are significantly smaller.
Are Earwigs Dangerous To Humans?
Though many believe that the earwig’s common name is due to the superstition that female earwigs might lay their eggs in a sleeping person’s ears or even in the brains, this is a complete myth! You are in no more danger from an earwig ending up in your ear than any other insect, and as they are accidental pests an infestation of earwigs in your home is highly unlikely. The choice of name for the earwig may be attributed to this myth, however, it is more likely due to the unique shape of the insect’s hindwings, which to some appear to look like a human ear when open.
The earwig is not considered to be particularly dangerous to humans, and at most contact may result in no more than an annoying pinch that resembles a pinprick. Even the widespread notion that earwigs are a problem insect in gardens and orchards may be slightly overblown, as they are nocturnal and the resulting damage to crops is generally considered to be minor. The earwig’s consumption of more dangerous garden pests like aphids may outweigh any minor damage they cause!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Huseyin Selcuk KIRAY
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