Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Common Earwig

Female, Image via Wikipedia
Terrible news, everyone! The Earwig does NOT crawl into people's ears at night and lay eggs in their brain! Oh no! This must be a confusion with... is there anything that actually DOES crawl into people's ears at night and lay eggs in their brain? I wouldn't actually discount it. If the youtube comments section of almost every single nature video has taught me anything, it's that the annoyingly constant "damn nature, you scary!" refrain is often true. The even more annoying allusions to Pokemon, however, have no excuse. No excuse whatsoever.

Earwigs do like cool, moist hide-outs, though. The word "earwig" comes from the Old English for "ear beetle", so maybe an earwig crawled into the ear of some king or chieftain one night and he told absolutely everyone about it. Or perhaps, in the old days, when people lived in hovels made of wood and animal skins or whatever, it might have been quite a common occurrence. I don't know. Fact is, ears aren't a great place for earwigs. I doubt it's anything personal, they just don't think of you in that way. Friends? Friends.

Male, Image via Wikipedia
Common Earwigs get their name from being an extremely successful, widespread earwig. They prefer the temperate climates of Europe and western Asia but were later spread into North America, where they have found yet more success and have spread throughout the continent. Let's take a closer look and see if there are any clues as to how they may have come about this astonishing achievement.

Common Earwigs have a flattened body shape, perfect for crawling into little crevices by day, while most of their activities are conducted at night. Mostly eating, I suspect. The Common Earwig has a wide, omnivorous diet, eating plants, decaying plants, aphids, spiders, insect eggs and all sorts. They aren't great predators, but they certainly can kill and eat small prey. This brings us to the most obvious part of the earwig: the cerci.

Many insects have cerci, the paired appendages at the rear, but none are quite as distinct and powerful as those of the earwig. Aided by a flexible abdomen these pincers have a variety of uses, including capturing prey, threat displays and giving a nip to anything that gets too close. They're not so strong as to really harm humans, but you would probably feel it. Another use is to tuck in their wings. They have 1 pair of flimsy wings for flying and another pair that form a short, tough protection for them as the earwig crawls about. This protection isn't long like that of beetles, so the flying wings have to be folded up to an utterly absurd degree to fit underneath. No wonder they don't like to fly much! I once caught a flying earwig in my hand. It was flying incredibly slowly with its abdomen hanging down like a weight. Flying is definitely not their forte.

Image via Wikipedia
Female earwigs have straight cerci while males are more rounded and cruel looking. It really means that their hindquarters can connect during mating. In autumn, the female will lay about 50 eggs in an underground nest. Here she will stay over the winter, cleaning the eggs of fungus and protecting them from all comers. They will hatch in spring, lots and lots of tiny, little earwigs who's mother will continue to protect for another month.

So, an insect that thrives in cool temperatures, can rest in all sorts of crevices, eat all sorts of food, hunt, protect itself from predators and protect its eggs and young from the dangers of early life. It looks to me like those pincers are going to be around for quite a while yet!


TexWisGirl said...

they are freaky looking...

Joseph JG said...

They really are, either that or "unique"! It's strange how we can just become accustomed to really strange things.

Crunchy said...

You forgot to mention the coolest thing about earwigs: they're ridiculously CRUNCHY. A little bit like me. :)

Joseph JG said...

Haahahaah! Right, yeah. Clearly my research was terribly incomplete. At least I know what I'll be doing with the next earwig I see!

Porakiya said...

If you take a close look at a fully extended wing, you'll see how the earwig got its name. It's wings are kinda shaped like a human ear:

Joseph JG said...

Really? It would be pretty cool if everyone completely misunderstood where the name comes from!

Porakiya said...

@Joseph Jameson-Gould: I learned that bit from animal planet, more specifically, The Most Extreme. The episode that I heard it from was on animal myths, and, sure enough, the earwig was one of the top five (I don't exactly remember what number though).

Joseph JG said...

Cool! I always find it interesting when people think that urban myths came about hundreds of years ago, but it turns out that people hundreds of years ago have never heard of such ridiculous nonsense.

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