Common European earwig (Forficula auricularia)
|Size||Length: 13 mm (2)|
Widespread and often common (3).
The earwig is a very common insect, and one that often triggers repulsion due to the unfounded belief that they enter people's ears and burrow into their brains. Their name derives from the Old English word earwicga, which means 'ear creature' (3); the specific part of the scientific name of this species, auricularia also reflects the association with ears (4). One largely unknown explanation for these names is that the hindwings, which are neatly folded concertina fashion below the short, leathery forewings are the shape of human ears, and 'earwig' may be a corruption of 'ear wing' (3). The common European earwig is reddish brown in colour, with a flattened and elongate body, and slender, beaded antennae. An obvious feature of earwigs is the pair of 'pincers' or forceps at the tip of the flexible abdomen. Both sexes have these pincers; in males they are large and very curved, whereas in females they are straight (3). Larvae or 'nymphs' are similar to adults in appearance, but their wings are either absent or small (3).
The earwig is found throughout Europe and has been introduced to the United States of America (5). In Britain, this species is very common (1).
Found in a wide range of habitats and is common in gardens (3).
The earwig is a fascinating species, and is one of the few non-social insects to show dedicated parental care of offspring. After mating, the male departs (3) and the female lays 50-90 white eggs in a nest the ground (5). During the winter she defends the eggs against predators and keeps them free of mould by licking them (3). After the larvae (nymphs) hatch, the female cares for them during the early stages. Earwigs undergo a type of development known as incomplete metamorphosis, in which the nymphs progress through a series of moults. The stages between moults are known as 'instars'. The female will have lost her maternal instinct when the nymphs reach their second instar; if they have not left the nest by this time they risk being eaten by their mother (3).
Earwigs are typically at their most active at night, when they emerge from under refuges such as log piles, stones and crevices in fences to feed on other insects, detritus, fruit and plant matter (5). They fly very rarely, and can be pests, causing damage to flowers (3).
Not threatened at present.
Conservation action has not been targeted at this species.
For more on invertebrates and their conservation see Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust at:
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- Abdomen: in arthropods (crustaceans, insects and arachnids) the abdomen is the hind region of the body, which is usually segmented to a degree. In crustacea (e.g. crabs) the limbs attach to the abdomen; in insects the limbs are attached to the thorax (the part of the body nearest to the head) and not the abdomen. In vertebrates the abdomen is the part of the body that contains the internal organs (except the heart and lungs).
- Antennae: pair of sensory structures on the head of invertebrates.
- Incomplete metamorphosis: type of insect development (also known as hemimetabolous development) in which the adult form is reached via a series of moults. The larva (nymph) resembles a miniature wingless adult; the wings develop externally as the nymph grows.
- Larvae: stage in an animal's lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
- National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (Jan 2003): http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
- Sterry, P. (1997) Complete British Wildlife photo guide. Harper Collins Publishers, London.
- O'Toole, C. (2002) The new encyclopedia of insects and their allies. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Buczacki, S. (2002) Fauna Britannica. Hamlyn, London.
- University of Florida, Department of Entomology and Nematology: European earwig (March 2003): http://creatures.ifas.ufl.edu/veg/european_earwig.htm