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What are earwigs?

Earwigs, otherwise known as ‘pincher bugs’ are from the Dermaptera order of invertebrates. Derma means skin and ptera means wings. Not all earwigs have wings. They get the nickname ‘pincher bugs’ because they have very hard pincers attached to a flexible abdomen. Earwigs come in a variety of colours including shades of brown, black, yellow and red. 

It is likely that the name earwig comes from a combination of old english words ‘eard’ (soil) and ‘wicga’ (insect) rather than the fictional story that they can crawl into your ear and lay eggs in your brain!

How many types of earwig are there?

Australia has approximately one hundred earwig species both native and introduced. Native species include the Brown Earwig. There are about two thousand species worldwide!

Do the males and females look different?

Both male and female earwigs have segmented abdomens. Segmented means divided into parts. Males have ten visible segments while females have only eight. The pincers on a male curve inwards. Female pincers are straighter.

Where do earwigs live?

Earwigs can be found in the warmer, more humid climates of Australia. They like dark, damp environments. A common place to find them is in decaying wood and plant material, under leaf litter and the top layer of soil where they can dig out small nests for their eggs. 

What do earwigs eat?

Earwigs are omnivorous. They feed on dead or decaying plants and animals. They like to eat damp, rotting material because it is a reliable food source and somewhere they can hide. Some earwigs are predators and use their pincers to catch and hold small insects before eating them. Many species of earwig are considered pollinators because flower pollen is on the menu too!

What eats earwigs?

Earwigs are prey for many animals such as birds, insectivores (insect eating mammals), spiders, lizards, frogs, centipedes and assassin bugs.

How are earwigs adapted to their environment?

Earwigs have long, flat bodies which help them to crawl into cracks and crevices. They are nocturnal scavengers and move quickly to avoid being eaten! 

Earwigs use their pincers as a form of defense and for attacking prey. They will use them to pinch humans if disturbed but it is a weak pinch if they can manage it at all. Earwigs are not poisonous but can produce a foul smell as a form of defence. 

Not all earwigs have wings and they are only used for short bursts of flight to escape predators, jump short distances or if they fall. 

How do earwigs reproduce and what is their life cycle?

Female earwigs lay a clutch of 20 to 40 eggs in wood hollows, under leaves or in the top layer of soil.

The eggs hatch approximately seven days later. Nymphs (baby earwigs) are born with the general shape of adults but are lighter in colour. They will moult four to five times before they are considered to be an adult. Moult means to shed skin and shell to make way for new growth. 

Female earwigs, unlike most of the insect world, will take care of their young until the second or third moult. After that, they become independent.

Find out more

The Invertebrate Explorer digital book explores the incredible world of Australian invertebrates.

Students can use the book to investigate classification, features, adaptations and habitats of a variety of Australian invertebrates through narrated videos, stunning images, interactive activities and detailed text.

This book was designed by teachers to support the NSW Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus and NSW English K-6 Syllabus.

Content supports living world, Australian animals and class studies on invertebrates.

Download free from Apple Books

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